Canadian Underwriter

Why Ontario should worry about worsening weather

January 19, 2023   by Alyssa DiSabatino

Houses along the shores of Lake Erie following December's 'bomb cyclone'

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Final numbers for 2022 show another year of NatCats reaching over $3 billion in insured damages (and, at $3.1 billion, the third highest total NatCat losses in Canadian history). 

Those figures don’t just point to more insured damages losses for the industry, but rather are a signal that weather events are worsening as our climate warms, one expert suggested. 

Events like the late December 2022 storm which swept through eastern Canada, Ontario and parts of the U.S. are becoming more frequent, Chris St. Clair, former weather presenter and journalist at the Weather Network told Canadian Underwriter. 

Climate change is causing the atmosphere around the globe, including Ontario, to warm rapidly. But a warmer overall atmosphere doesn’t mean Ontario won’t get below-freezing weather, St. Clair added. 

“Say our winter average in Toronto goes up four degrees in the next 25 years. It’s still below freezing. It’s just not minus ten degrees — it’s minus six. So, it’s still cold enough that we’re going to get snow.” 

#ShowYourStripes campaign which depicts Temperature Change in Ontario between 1901 to 2021

Temperature Change in Ontario between 1901 to 2021

That’s troublesome because a warmer atmosphere is capable of holding more moisture. And more moisture means increasingly frequent and severe storms, St. Clair explained. 

So it’s prudent to be concerned, since Ontario is often susceptible to lake effect snow — which is produced when cold air passes over warm bodies of water, like the great lakes. 

“If storms are stronger, we’re going to get more lake effect snow,” he said, “and if the atmosphere can hold more moisture, we’ll actually get storms that contain more snow.” 

The late December ‘bomb cyclone’ in eastern Canada, which logged an estimated $180 million in insured damages according to Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc. (CatIQ) figures, is just one example of worsening weather events.

Of the eight severe weather events that caused insured damage in 2022, five of them occurred at least partially in Ontario.

“Those types of ice events, with snow and wind and the Great Lakes, are becoming more frequent for the same reasons,” he said. “Those are the kinds of weather events that we’ll see more of in this part of Canada.” 

The bomb cyclone caused ice to build up on homes along Ontario’s lakeshores, as seen in photos circulated across social media. 

“That ice buildup wasn’t from freezing rain — that was just from the wind lifting moisture off of Lake Erie and throwing it against the buildings,” said St. Clair, who will be presenting at CatIQ Connect on February 7 in Toronto. 

“[But] building codes aren’t designed with that in mind. So the structural damage that can happen to all of those buildings carrying that load of ice, the buildings aren’t designed for that kind of loading for weight. 

“Those are things that we need to start thinking about in this part of the country…‘how do we mitigate the problem in the future?’ because the problem won’t go away.” 


Houses along the shores of Lake Erie, near Fort Erie, Ont., remain covered in ice Tuesday, December 27, 2022, following a winter storm that swept through much of Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nick Iwanyshyn