Archives for category: weather


Bragging Rights, Fun & Games
Cochrane, ON, located at the transition point between subarctic and humid continental climate zones, is a happy place, proud of its cold winters. I lived there from 1941 to 1946 and remember them vividly.

  • The railway junction and District seat didn’t have a weather station; radio reports lumped us in with Timmins, 30 miles to the west. We adopted the bragging rights of Iroquois Falls, 30 miles to the south. A temperature of – 58.3 C ( – 72.9 F) there on Jan. 23, 1935 was the lowest  in Ontario and fifth lowest in Canada.
  • The sun shone and the snow was dry, white and deep. It crunched like crazy when you walked on it but you didn’t just walk. For variety you held your foot out and ran it back and forth to uncover or form ice so you could zip along faster. All was safe and silent on the residential streets.
  • We girls lay on our backs in the snow and ‘flew’ with our outspread arms and legs flapping up and down to leave the impression of an angel. The trick was to try to jump back up on both feet at once without leaving any exit marks.
  • To play tag, we first made a ‘pie’ in the snow by running around behind each other in single file to make a huge circle. Then we bisected and quartered the pie to make paths where we could chase and catch each other. If you lost balance and made a footprint in the unbroken snow, you were “out”.
  • The arena was the busiest place in town, full of would-be hockey stars and figure skaters. Men on curling teams wore jackets that looked like Hudson’s Bay blankets.

Cochrane 001School, Frozen Noses & a Calamity

My sister, Enid, attacked my sister, Tanis, with a snowball but she was a survivor. School was never once closed because of the weather; if we’d had snow days no one could have got any kind of education.

  • After we made it to school on a terribly cold day, we stayed in the lobby to inspect each other’s faces for signs of frostbite. If you saw a white spot on someone’s nose, ear or cheek, you massaged it gently with an open palm until it became red again, a sign that circulation had been restored.
  • The Principal, Mr. Marwick, stood at the door glancing outside to see who still hadn’t arrived. He kept his finger on the electric bell and didn’t press it until the last straggler was in.
  • One cold day Tanis was hurrying to school along the curve in the road, keeping close to the 15-foot slope down to the frozen lake on her right. She heard bells, a clatter, pounding hooves and a “Neigh-h-h” behind her and realized she’d better get out of the way fast. It was good she and her friend, Mimi Duranceau, were Cochrane High School’s championship tumbling team.
  • The empty flatbed the horse was pulling jackknifed and went over the slope, scooping up and dispersing everything in its path as the terrified horse galloped by. Mr. Marwick saw the drama and yelled, “That kid! She must be dead! It’s Tanis!”
  • My big sister did not die but she suffered from a concussion. She had flown through the air of her own accord and managed to tumble right down the snowy slope without getting whacked by the fast-moving ‘tram’. cochrane3World War Two & Our Stars 
  • The boys fought off the Germans and Japanese with BB guns in hand-made snow forts. We were all sober, patriotic participants in the effort to achieve Victory. Food, soap and gas were rationed; we bought war savings stamps and volunteered to do errands for the Red Cross.
  • All the high school boys belonged to the cadet corps and drilled daily along the peninsula where the school was located. You can be sure Tim Horton, the future NHL player and donut-chain namesake is marching in this platoon. Another notable native son, Don McKinnon O.C., is there too. He discovered the Hemlo Lake site where three major gold mines are located. Michael Barnes wrote a book about him called “The Scholarly Prospector.”
  • Incidentally, Enid was Timmy’s girlfriend and got to use his stick on the girls’ hockey team.


Main Street’s Winter Wonderland
Main Street turned into a fun place in winter. Three fires — in 1910, 1911 and 1916 — had burned it down and each time it was rebuilt with the two sides farther apart. This was so the flames could not hop from one side to another.

  • The plows had to clear it as if it were two streets, and leave a big snow bank in the center. It was always fun to cross over , especially when the bank became more than 10 feet tall. A polished, shiny, icy track formed from the heat of pedestrian traffic. The paths became steps on the way up and slippery slides on the way down.
  • There were no cars (only delivery horses pulling trams) to run into.
  • No one even tried to keep a car running in winter, except travelling salesmen who parked in front of the hotels on Albert Street opposite the railway station. Family cars were put up on wooden blocks in garages or sheds with their wheels removed. A lot of ‘snowbirds’ drove south instead.


Intrepid Parents, Fashion & Climate

  • My parents were very good sports about the Cochrane winters and never let them be an excuse for not going out of doors for a brisk walk, visit or church service.
  • The right hats helped them survive and enjoy the winter weather. Father bought a fur cap especially for Cochrane. Mother’s unique cadet-style hat was custom-made from ermine pelts by a Cochrane tailor. (That is another story which I tell in A Book of Kells.)
  • Mother always stated a good cloth (wool) coat was as warm as a fur one. Synthetic fabrics did not exist in those days. She never wore pants but was delighted to discover cotton ‘over-stockings’ which she could pull up over her silk ones.
  • The exhilaration continues. The average Cochrane temperature from Dec., 2016 to Feb., 2017 was – 22.6 C  ( – 8.7 F) and the record low was – 47 C ( – 52.6 F).

Happy Reading & Writing from CozyBookBasics!








It was much cozier in my breakfast nook on the other side of the kitchen window this week. Today the icicles shriveled in the sunlight and the overweight snow load slid off the roof. It’s time for the spring thaw and a white flag of surrender from winter. Going skiing today.



Kitchen Window View, Jan. 4/16

Happy Reading & Writing from Cozybookbasics

Our house on Aug. 4, 2014 after an F3 tornado hit Aylmer

Our house on Aug. 4, 1994 after an F3 tornado hit Aylmer, QC

Leaving one’s windows halfway open whenever uncertain weather is predicted may just help you save yourself and your house in a strong tornado, eminent Canadian meteorologists said back in 1963. The key is not to wait until you are panicked by a tornado alert or, worst still, its arrival. Anyway, we believed them and this may have saved us and our house twenty years ago.

Here’s our story:
On the sunny morning of Aug. 4, 1994 in Aylmer, QC we took our cousin Ann (who was visiting from Switzerland) sailing on Lac Deschenes in our 23-foot sloop.

At 11 a.m. our boat radio predicted rain and possible thunderstorms in the afternoon. When we saw clouds gathering around 2 p.m. we went home and checked to make sure we had left all our double windows open part way. Outside panes to the right, inside ones to the left. All of them were set like that except the big French window in the dining room. We’d been doing this when “possible thunderstorms” were forecast ever since

my husband Tom, a mechanical engineer/freelance journalist, wrote a half-hour documentary in 1963 for CBC-TV’s program, The Nature of Things. The pioneering TV weatherman Percy Saltzman and a government meteorologist, S.J. Butler, were ‘on camera’. They built a little apparatus to show how a tornado worked and re-ran all the available film footage of actual tornadoes. Then the two weathermen and Tom discussed what could be done to protect oneself against tornadoes. They came to the conclusion that it was best to leave windows part-way open to relieve the pressure difference between inside and outside.

Aylmer had never had a tornado, but it is in the tornado-prone belt the government defines as stretching from Manitoba to New Brunswick. Two or three tornadoes occur within a 124-mi. radius of the Canadian capital each year, mostly in isolated rural areas. Out of precaution, Tom made a house rule: “When a possible storm is forecast, the windows should be opened half-way.” This prevents water from coming in while venting the house. And so, that’s what we’d been doing ever since and that’s what we did on that day, twenty years ago.

At the fateful hour of 3 p.m I (Marg) was in the kitchen, Ann was in the dining room and Tom and our son Leslie were upstairs at the McIntosh computer. All of us were facing windows on the south side. Suddenly a torrent of rain crashed down, the sky went dark and a violent wind from the west roared in on us like a freight train.

The house shook; we were scared, transfixed and dumbfounded.
“The wind! It came in!” Ann cried in awe. (Actually it probably went out.) Upstairs, rain lapped at the computer and flying debris scratched the window in front of Tom and Leslie’s noses. “We should all get down to the basement,” I yelled at the top of my lungs. I got as far as the side-door landing when the freight-train roaring stopped as abruptly as it had started. The 30-second nightmare was over. “That must have been a tornado,” Leslie said. The power was off and sirens sounded.

Tornado 3

The morning after the F3 tornado in Aylmer

We opened the front door onto a street streaming with stunned, bewildered, bewetted residents walking and looking in disbelief at what an F3 tornado (as we found out it was later) had done. Some houses were still standing and some gone. A full-size Chevrolet was wrapped around a big tree and a 20-foot Russian Olive tree was ripped out of the ground right next to our property, leaving an eight-foot deep hole in the ground. Our house was missing over half of its shingles in the back and some of the soffit was dangling from the carport roof. A block away on the other side of the boulevard we saw a brick bungalow with its side caved in and its roof missing.

A big refrigerator was sitting on a K-car, both of them smashed. The refrigerator had been sucked out of its kitchen; it flew about 200 feet. One house had its whole facade as well as its roof blown off so the bedrooms and bathroom were exposed. Miraculously, no one was killed. A dozen people were treated in hospital for cuts, bruises and abrasions; one more seriously hurt person was kept overnight. The property damage to 325 homes in our small residential neighborhood amounted to $10 million.

Fourteen houses had to be totally replaced and 62 were badly damaged. Before the storm blew itself out at Saint Pascal, Ontario, 27 mi. east of Aylmer, 1-1/3 in. of rain had fallen and 400 basements got flooded. We and all the other “sinistrés” (the French word for victims of a disaster) went out for dinner that night at the municipality’s expense. The area was evacuated so inspectors could look for gas leaks while the police protected the area from looting. The next days’ newspapers reported the weather office had been tracking a low-pressure system from the American midwest that hopscotched its way to the Calabogie Hills (46 mi. west of here) and touched down at the Aylmer marina.

Reasons officials later gave to the Ottawa Citizen and Aylmer Bulletin for not having issued an alert or warning included “it was too close, in a blind spot right in front of our instruments”, “we are not very good at detecting tornadoes,” “we thought it might be a microburst” and “we did not want to make people panic.” Since then they have changed their policies for the better. We were lucky to survive with so little damage. The worst of it, losing more than half of our roof shingles and part of the soffit from the carport, was covered by insurance. It was “one of the most intense tornadoes in history in the National Capital Region.” (Wikipedia)

The McIntosh computer could only type “iiiiiiiiiiii” for about two months but then recovered completely.With advice from a forester friend, we were able to prune our Colorado blue spruce, which had had its top four feet severed by flying debris, so that it eventually grew a new leader. As for the abstract metal sculptures our artist daughter had installed in our backyard — may they rest in piece.

Tornado 1

This house near ours had its windows closed tightly when the F3 tornado struck;

Tom did the engineering calculations that had been woefully lacking. He’s convinced, and thinks weathermen should be, that windows should be left partly open in a tornado. They should advise people to arrange their windows that way calmly in advance whenever the weather is “iffy.” Although many people, especially scientists, agree with him, the conventional wisdom in the U. S. seems to be that that is not useful. Even the CNN meteorologist, Chad Myers, recently told the public that windows should not be opened because debris might come in. The only other explanation given is that running to a safe place, like the basement or a bathtub, is more useful. We think you can do both.

Here’s Tom’s professional pitch:

“Tell people to open their double windows (if that is what they have) so that the air can escape and equalize the pressure when a tornado hits. Even leave single windows open a crack and accept some water coming in. “Of course people should run, not walk, to the basement or other safe places in their houses in a tornado alert. But they should arrange their windows in advance if a tornado might happen, before it is announced. It may well save their house.

“An F3 tornado, such as the one that passed over our house, would cause a pressure difference of about 100 millibars, or about a pound per square inch, betweeen inside and outside. A pound per square inch would have had a lifting force of some 100,000 lbs on our roof. That could lift it and maybe a floor of a 600 square-foot area house like ours, as well. The top floor windows, especially, should be open. The roof is fairly light. We saw the debris of a neighbor’s attic less than a block away. Had Tom not opened the windows, we think our roof could have been ripped off, too.

“Wind speeds reported for tornadoes have never been properly measured by competent engineers. And weathermen estimate air speeds no higher than those in hurricanes. But reports that toothpicks have been embedded by tornadoes in steel beams indicate that the real maximum speeds, rather than those reported by weathermen, can reach the speed of sound and probably higher.”

Thank you for dropping by. This blog for all lovers of life and language aims to be useful and entertain. Topics vary from how to build a canoe to how my mom moved from “prince to preacher and fog to bog” as a war bride after world war one. Writing advice is squeezed in between. Find out more about A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void,  Kathleen’s Cariole Ride and Eating at Church on Amazon,  Goodreads or my website.

I will be at Britton’s Glebe, 846 Bank St., Ottawa on Sat., Aug. 9, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to honor the WWI 100th anniversary. Please drop in  if you would like to chat and pick up a signed copy of my book.

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!