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A year of wild weather: Environment Canada releases the Top 10 weather stories of 2018

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Every year, Environment and Climate Change Canada releases its top ten weather stories. And this year, there was no shortage of extreme weather events across the country.

From coast-to-coast-to-coast, virtually nowhere was spared extreme weather in 2018.

But people are most likely remember the raging wildfires that consumed British Columbia, the number one story on the list. ​ 

Though the fire season had a late start, by Aug. 15, the province had issued a state of emergency as 566 fires had ignited.

And they just kept on going.

By the end of August, approximately 12,985 square kilometres were burning in B.C., beating the worst fire season in the province’s history — set only one year earlier —  when 12,161 square kilometres burned.

The disaster didn’t stop at provincial borders.

Smoke from the fires — combined with those from Washington state, Oregon and California — drifted straight across the country. For weeks, more than 10 million Canadians, from B.C. to the Atlantic Provinces, were impacted by the smoke.

In this image taken by NASA’s MODIS satellite on Aug. 24, smoke is seen stretching from B.C. to Newfoundland and Labrador. (NASA/Worldview)

“You didn’t have to see the flames to be impacted,” said David Phillips, senior climatologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada who has been compiling this list for more than 20 years. “There’s no question about it: Hotter and drier and milder winters are sort of greasing the skids to get more of these [fires]. But the smoke… it was so dominant across the country.”

In fact, it was so bad that cities from Kelowna, B.C. — which was in the thick of it — to Winnipeg saw a higher number of days than normal with smoke and haze. Kelowna experienced 290 hours of hazy, smoke-filled air, much higher than the norm of three.

“From a health point of view … to me it was the number one story,” Phillips said.

The fires were a perfect example of how the weather doesn’t have to be in your backyard for you to be affected by it, he said. “You can fight the flames but you can’t fight the smoke.” 

‘Part of a global heat wave’

The heat was another big weather story of 2018.

On the July 1 long weekend, the heat put a bit of a damper on Canada Day festivities in the nation’s capital when the humidex value reached 48 C. Attendance for celebrations in Ottawa was 6,000, down from an expected 20,000.

In Quebec, more than 90 people died of heat-related causes after a stifling heat wave where temperatures sat in the high 30s for several days in August. To compound matters, humidex values in some areas reached into the mid-40s.

Canada wasn’t alone; people straight across the globe were feeling the heat. In Japan, more than 20,000 people were taken to hospital with heat stroke in early July as temperatures soared to 35 C in some areas. More than 70 people died as a result of heat-related causes.

Record heat was also recorded across Scandinavia. Several locations in the Arctic Circle reported temperatures of 30 C or higher.

“It was part of a global heat wave,” Phillips said. “There was no escaping it.”

Other stories include the hot and dry conditions in the Prairies that had devastating effects on agriculture; storms in Ontario that cost the province upwards of $1 billion; the tornadoes in Ottawa-Gatineau on the last day of summer and the floods in B.C. and New Brunswick.

Laurel Wingrove assesses the tornado damage to her home in Dunrobin, Ont., outside of Ottawa after a tornado tore through the area in September. (Kristin Nelson/CBC)

While not directly in the top ten stories, Phillips said that the north isn’t left out in the cold. In fact, he noted the Arctic heat wave, heat in the Yukon and hours of blizzards as just some of the stories for the region.

Phillips said he has noticed big changes with the list over the 23 years he has been compiling it.

“In those early years, it was hard to come up with top ten stories,” Phillips said. “But now it’s hard to pare it down.”

With a rapidly changing climate, he said years from now the weather in 2018 will seem normal.

“I don’t think it will ever be quiet.”

Visit Environment and Climate Change Canada to see the detailed list.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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