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Cleanup underway after rare, powerful storm hammers Toronto

Last Updated Aug 8, 2018 at 6:55 pm EDT

Parts of Toronto are still cleaning up after a month’s worth of rain fell in a couple of hours on Tuesday night, causing massive flooding on the streets, inside homes and buildings, and on the TTC.

A portion of Line 1 between Finch West and Wilson stations remains shut down due to flooding on Wednesday. The TTC said the flooding affected about 400 feet of the track and three feet of water had to pumped off the track and signals. An electrician would have to check the signals before service is restored.

George Brown College said its Waterfront Campus would be closed for the day after “extensive flooding” on the main floor and lower levels.

The heavy rain, which came as a surprise to many in the city, caused extensive flooding on several streets, which led to cars and a streetcar to be submerged underwater. Several homes were also flooded. A large portion of North York was left in the dark but the power has since been restored.

It was also a scary night for two men who were trapped in an elevator in the Junction that was flooded with six feet of water. There was only one foot of air space left when emergency crews arrived.

Mayor John Tory, who was in the area of Danforth Avenue and Birchmount Road for a campaign stop on Wednesday, said the city has undertaken projects over the past years to “make sure the city is better protected against weather that is changing as a result of climate change and perhaps other circumstances as well.”

“The city, as part of its plan, as we speak, is investing hundreds of millions of dollars … in various measures that are designed to mitigate everything from basement flooding to flooding taking place elsewhere,” he added.

Tory defended himself against criticism he helped to nix a stormwater management plan last year. It would have had home and business owners billed for water based on the size of their roofs and parking spaces rather than consumption — an incentive for managing water runoff.

“I will say we have a robust plan,” he said. “That money is being collected and invested in hugely improved infrastructure. People can see that with their own eyes across the city, and so there is no detriment to the ability to invest in dramatically improved infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, meteorologists are calling the summer storm a localized and rare event. But what caused this sudden deluge in the city and why was the heavy rainfall so localized?

For example, Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport received 72 millimetres of rain — a month’s worth of rain that fell over a short time span. The downtown area was hammered with 59 millimetres of rain. Pearson airport got six millimetres, while only two millimetres was recorded at Buttonville Airport in Markham.

CityNews and 680 NEWS meteorologist Natasha Ramsahai said what happened Tuesday night was on a micro level versus forecast models, which are on a large scale. She said most of the models cover an area spanning 10 kilometres, which is what meteorologists can see down to.

‘What happened last night happened over one kilometre. So some of our forecast models, the non-high-resolution ones, just can’t pick up what happened last night on that micro level,” Ramashai said.

Environment Canada meteorologist Geoff Coulson said the storm began as a weak shower on the Vaughan-Toronto border. It combined with a lakefront breeze, headed south and stalled.

“As the evening wore on the storm cell intensified very dramatically, drifted slowly southward and what’s even more amazing is how localized some of the big amounts were,” Coulson said.

“Shower activity generated by that lake breeze front starts to collapse back towards the city and then unfortunately it sort of stalled out over the city for those couple of hours where it really rained quite heavily.”

Ramsahai said they could see a couple of pockets of heavier precipitation on the models around 8:15 p.m., but the system was isolated and mainly in the west end. Then about a half-hour later, the rain continued to linger in the area.

“What happened here is something called the convergence zone, (a) little bit fueled by some lake breezes,” she said. “So the wind directions were kind of meeting. When air meets, it’s got to go somewhere, and it rises. And because it is so muggy and so unstable out there, there is lots of moisture (and) the thunderstorm clouds did develop.

“We knew there was a chance for thunderstorms — that was in the forecast. But we didn’t anticipate that it was going to sit and be stationary over the same area.”

Watch her full analysis below:

Environment Canada said another round of thunderstorms is possible in parts of the GTA — including Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Vaughan, Richmond Hill and Markham — Wednesday afternoon and evening.

The agency said there could be as much as 20 to 30 millimetres of rain which, with the already saturated ground, could cause pooling and flash floods.

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