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Hurricane Bill targets Canada: How often does that happen?

The storm was steaming toward Newfoundland Sunday. It would not be the first hurricane to hit Canada.

By Staff writer / August 23, 2009

Hurricane Bill is pictured moving in the Altantic Ocean in this satellite image taken and released on August 19.

NOAA/ Reuters

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Hurricane Bill passed American shores early Sunday morning as it headed northeast toward a potential rendezvous with Canada Sunday evening.

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The storm has tracked northward along the East Coast during the past week, at one point becoming a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of at least 131 miles per hour. But it missed Bermuda Saturday and has stayed far out to sea, resulting only in rough surf and closed beaches from New Jersey to Nantucket.

If Bill makes landfall at all, it will likely be in Newfoundland, by which time it is expected to be downgraded to a tropical storm.

Hurricanes and Canada are hardly synonymous, but the storms are not unheard of – particularly along Canada’s eastern seaboard. Hurricane Kyle hit Nova Scotia as recently as last year, and several other hurricanes – including Noel and Juan – have caused significant damage in the maritime province during the past decade alone.

Indeed, Nova Scotia has most often borne the brunt of Canadian hurricane activity. Storms like Bill – which skirt the US coast – can often make landfall in Nova Scotia, because it juts into the Atlantic east of Maine. While Newfoundland is farther east still, hurricanes tend to weaken before reaching its more northerly shores, as appears likely with Bill.

The notable exception to this phenomenon was the so-called Newfoundland hurricane of 1775 – the first recorded hurricane in Canada and the deadliest, killing 4,000.

The most powerful hurricanes to hit Canada in the past 50 years, however, have both tracked through Nova Scotia.

Hurricane Ginny in 1963 was the only Category 2 storm to hit Canada during at least the past half century, leaving a foot of snow in its wake. Hurricane Juan in 2003 was right at the border between a Category 1 and 2 storm, but directly hit the capital, Halifax, leaving 300,00 people without power. Because of the destruction it caused, Canadians successfully lobbied to have the storm’s name retired.

The most destructive Canadian hurricane of the past century, however, did not follow the typical channel up the Eastern seaboard. Hurricane Hazel of 1954, came ashore in the Carolinas but moved into the province of Ontario with such force that it washed away bridges and killed 35 people on a single Toronto street.

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