Chris Fogarty remembers the moment 20 years ago when he broadcast a weather bulletin warning that Hurricane Juan would make landfall near Halifax, generating winds of up to 140 kilometers per hour.
With just 36 hours until the storm’s arrival, the Canadian Hurricane Center meteorologist was concerned the warning would be ignored.
“We had gone through almost two decades of very little hurricane impact in Canada,” Fogarty said in a recent interview, recalling how Juan would become the most powerful and deadly storm to hit Atlantic Canada in almost 50 years.
“People didn’t really have any memory of the recent hurricanes… There was still a feeling that we didn’t have hurricanes in eastern Canada.”
Information morning – NS10:31Hurricane Juan 20 years after its arrival in NS
After midnight on September 29, 2003, Hurricane Juan made landfall near Prospect with sustained winds of 157 kilometers per hour. To talk about the storm 20 years later, we spoke with Chis Fogarty of the Canadian Hurricane Center. He wrote a doctoral thesis on Juan’s storm cell.
That sense of complacency contrasts sharply with the current one. In the two decades since Juan made landfall on the morning of September 29, 2003, the East Coast has been hit by several intense tropical storms, including Igor in 2010, Arthur in 2014, Dorian in 2019 and last fall, Fiona, the costliest weather event in the region’s history.
And earlier this month, in the days before Post-Tropical Storm Lee arrived in the Maritimes, there was a seemingly endless discussion on social media about weather warnings, computer models, ocean temperatures, barometric pressure and, of course, climate change.
That was not the case in 2003, when Hurricane Juan moved toward Nova Scotia. Few people had smartphones. Facebook, Twitter and Reddit had not yet launched. And there was a lot of skepticism about hurricane forecasts.
“Even with the official warnings, people still felt like the forecasters were overreacting,” Fogarty said.
Ryan Mulligan wasn’t one of them.
“With this forecast, I was excited because it was directly aligned with my research,” recalled Mulligan, who at the time was a doctoral student at Dalhousie University in Halifax studying the impact of hurricanes on coastal environments. That excitement was soon replaced by fear when Juan made landfall at 12:10 a.m. near Shad Bay, west of Halifax.
Energized by ocean temperatures that were three to five degrees above normal, the howling Category 2 hurricane brought sustained winds of 152 kilometers per hour amid heavy rain. At one point, a weather station atop a lighthouse in Halifax Harbor recorded a gust of 176 kilometers per hour. Nearby ships recorded even higher wind speeds as the harbor rose, destroying boardwalks and damaging ships.
“It was incredibly scary,” Mulligan said, recalling how the storm knocked out power and shook the house he lived in with his wife and two young children. “It wasn’t the thrill he was looking for… It was an unimaginably loud noise. The tops of the trees were touching the ground.”
Those who experienced the storm said it sounded like a speeding freight train or a roaring plane about to land.
The storm caused power outages that lasted nearly two weeks. In Halifax’s beloved Point Pleasant Park, Juan took down more than 80,000 trees. Later aerial surveys showed huge tracts of forested land abandoned in a tangled mess, as if a giant had left footprints all over the center of the province.
Roofs were ripped off, billboards were removed, and more than 140,000 Nova Scotians were left in the dark. Throughout the Halifax region, streets were littered with tree branches, mangled vehicles, dangling power lines and piles of shingles and siding. More damage was reported in PEI, where Juan fell below hurricane strength.
The storm claimed eight lives. A 31-year-old paramedic died when a huge oak tree crushed the ambulance he was in. A falling tree also killed a man in his car near Enfield, N.S., and two fishermen from Caraquet, N.B., died when their boat sank in the Gulf of St. Lawrence near Quebec’s Anticosti Island as the storm hit .
Juan was also blamed for the deaths of a mother and two of her children, whose house was lit with candles when it caught fire. And an aid worker died weeks later while he was clearing the rubble.
According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the storm caused an estimated $192 million in insurable damages.
“It was at least a week before you could move around in Halifax,” said Mulligan, who continues to study the impact of hurricanes on the North American coast as a professor of civil engineering and director of the Beaty Water Research Center at Queen’s University in Kingston. . , Ont.
Paul Mason, executive director of the Nova Scotia Office of Emergency Management, said he was at university when Juan broke in. Like many Halifax residents, he wasn’t worried about the forecasts. “They always seemed to fade away,” he recalled in an interview. “It would either fail us or weaken. It never seemed to live up to expectations.”
But Juan’s brutal beating changed attitudes. “People are much more aware of the dangers of climate change,” Mason said. “Juan was an early indicator… This calmed people down a little bit.”
Where there was once complacency, he said, there is now widespread acceptance of the threats posed by hurricane season.
“We’ve gone from conceptual discussions about whether climate change is real… to now saying, ‘We’re all seeing this,'” Mason said.
For his part, Fogarty highlighted that the technology used to track tropical storms is better than before. The resolution of today’s computer models is now eight times greater than in 2003, giving meteorologists a more accurate view of how storms act.
And the arrival of social media has revolutionized the distribution of weather warnings.
“There’s a huge difference now when you think about…immediate access to data on smartphones,” he said. “Juan was a great wake-up call for many people. Awareness and respect for forecasts has grown over time….. And our trust in science is greater.”