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Friday’s Severe Weather: Well Forecasted, Terrible Timing


Dayna Vettese
Meteorologist

Tuesday, July 23, 2013, 12:16 PM -

Storms marched across southern and central Ontario and southern Quebec on Friday leaving swaths of destruction in their paths.

So what happened on Friday? As discussed earlier in the week, a cold was forecasted to move into Ontario and Quebec late Friday and into Saturday morning with severe storms out ahead of the front and more with the front as well.

The Lead Up

As of the weekend of the 13th/14th, we were keeping our eyes out for the potential for severe storms on Friday. Models were hinting at the risk of severe weather and the Storm Prediction Center in the United States was outlining the potential as well. It is very difficult to pinpoint summer severe weather many days in advance (what the exact risks and impacts will be) but we can gauge a general risk area ahead of time.

On Monday, we began discussed here at The Weather Network the severe potential on Friday and potential plans for the day and how to communicate this risk to the public. Our meteorologists and on-camera presenters were discussing the long range forecast to the public and how Friday held the risk for severe storms. We were communicating the risk for damaging storms but also a very impactful weather event considering the event was forecasted to occur on a Friday afternoon and evening in the summer when many are headed to cottages and campgrounds for the weekend.

On Tuesday, Weather Network meteorologist Rob Davis wrote a piece about the potential for severe weather through the week outlining how the system in question would translate across the Prairie provinces and reach Ontario and Quebec by Friday.

He included a graphic outlining the areas in which we were forecasting the risk for severe weather as well as the Storm Prediction Center’s outlined areas.

Image created on Tuesday, July 16 by Rob Davis.

Image created on Tuesday, July 16 by Rob Davis.

Image created by the Storm Prediction Center in the United States.

Image created by the Storm Prediction Center in the United States.

We knew Friday would have severe thunderstorms but what we didn’t know just yet was what the exact impacts from the storms were going to be. As newer model data came in and as Friday grew closer, it became more and more evident that Friday’s weather would hold potential for damaging wind events and a slight tornado risk.

I then wrote a follow up to Rob Davis’ piece detailing what our risks would be on Friday.

Looking at the latest forecast data, it was noted that the set up was more for a damaging wind event rather than a tornadic event but there the tornado risk wasn’t zero. Meteorologists have tools we use to help us determine what type of storms the storms will be once they form: squall line, supercell, bowing segments. We look at the way the winds turn (the direction of the winds) as we go up in the atmosphere and determine the type of wind shear there will be. It appeared that Friday’s storms would have some wind shear in southern Ontario but not enough to sustain isolated supercells. What we saw was that we would have lines of storms with the potential for wind damage and what we call bowing segments. The reflectivity of storms on radar can take on a bow shape (like a bow of a bow and arrow) and this indicates very strong winds especially at the apex of the bow.

Chief meteorologist, Chris Scott, tweeted that this would be a high risk for damaging winds and power outages in cottage country.

So now we had a better idea of what the storms would be like and we were communicating 24/7 via television, website and social media that Friday would be a severe day. So the storms were very well forecasted and the public had several days notice that severe weather would be impacting the area on Friday. What then started to unfold was the concern for cottage goers, those getting away for the weekend. The storms looked to come through Friday afternoon and evening and in July in Ontario and Quebec, everyone knows there is a mass exodus toward cottage country.

We were very concerned that the pieces were coming together for a serious weather day and a dangerous day for those heading north. We were warning the public that travel would be dangerous on Friday and that waiting until Saturday may be a better scenario. In that same breath, we were mentioning that even if you wait until Saturday to head north, there may not be power in many cottage country regions.

Friday

The first Tornado Watches were issued by Environment Canada at around 11:00am EDT and the day was already starting. Storms roared through central Ontario and portions along the border with Quebec and later that afternoon the storms started barreling through southern Ontario, eastern Ontario and southern Quebec. We started receiving damage reports right away: trailers flipped, roof damage, power outages, large trees down, cars overturned. The damage reports continued throughout the rest of Friday all with the same crux: wind damage. There were several minor injuries as well. Many people were stuck in cottages with roads blocked due to trees being down. Trees were down all across Ontario and Quebec, power was out to hundreds of thousands of customers and many were stuck on the major highways heading north out of the city in torrential downpours and strong winds. In fact, during the height of folks traveling north, a Tornado Warning was issued for the area of Highway 400 in southern Ontario that splits to Highway 11: one of the most heavily traveled highways for cottage goers in southern Ontario.

Environment Canada has been out conducting damage surveys and all of their findings so far have been that the damage was due to straight-line winds, downburst winds, not tornadoes. There were several funnel clouds reports and a couple of brief tornado touchdown reports from the public but so far the damage all looks to be straight-line wind damage. The type of storms we saw Friday in southern Ontario were not conducive to long lived, violent tornadoes or supercells but rather quick spin-ups or funnel clouds. Many clouds can also be mistaken for funnel clouds as we received many photos of what were thought to be funnel clouds but were not. The event on Friday was a well forecasted event. We knew ahead of the time the potential, it was communicated to the public but the reality is that we can’t stop the weather. We can only communicate the risks and hope people prepare or adjust their plans accordingly. Unfortunately, the timing of the storms could not have coincided better with the busyness of a Friday afternoon in the summer but thankfully no deaths were reported and the only injuries described were minor.

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