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Was the #SKstorm hype justified?

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Chris Scott
Chief Meteorologist

Tuesday, July 16, 2013, 6:10 PM -

I sent a tweet Monday about the anticipated severity of storms in Saskatchewan that was meant to get attention, and boy did it ever!

Some on twitter have said this was way over the top and overly alarmist.

Let’s take a look at the facts the day after:

  • Multiple tornadoes have been confirmed by Environment Canada
  • The strongest supercell thunderstorm which spawned a tornado near Kronau had very strong rotation on par with U.S. southern plains tornado-producing storms
  • The number of tornadoes in Saskatchewan, along with one very impressive tornado just south of the border in Montana, was very likely the highest of any region in the world yesterday

Factually, I feel this tweet was on the money.  However, I do understand how someone could feel this was pushing the envelope.  What a single tweet cannot adequately provide is context.  140 characters is extremely limiting when trying to describe something as richly complex as severe weather.     

This is where our team of pros at The Weather Network stepped in and added the context.  Meteorologist Dayna Vettese, who has chased and seen numerous tornadoes in the U.S. plains, explained in a story on our website how the ingredients were very similar to a tornado day in Oklahoma.  Our on-air presenters also provided this context and warned that there was potential for nasty weather, but did not guarantee it in any one area.

I also had the opportunity to speak with the Regina Leader-Post to help frame the tornado threat: 

 “There are not many days in a year where you really need to be concerned and watch things closely. This is one of those days in Saskatchewan. It doesn’t guarantee we are going to get a tornado that is going to do damage, but the risk is much, much higher than most days in the summer.”

The risk did materialize, but we were very fortunate that the tornado touchdowns occurred primarily in fields. We came within 20-30 km of having a tornado-producing supercell thunderstorm smack dab over the city of Regina.  Luck was definitely on our side.

RADAR at 4:40 pm CST Monday showing tornado-producing supercell thunderstorm just south of Regina. Courtesy Environment Canada

RADAR at 4:40 pm CST Monday showing tornado-producing supercell thunderstorm just south of Regina. Courtesy Environment Canada

Meteorologists get especially concerned on days like Monday because we know the potential of what could happen. What we cannot predict, and will never be able to, is exactly where a tornado might form.

Saskatchewan is the northern extention of the U.S. tornado alley. Recent research by Environment Canada tornado guru Dr. David Sills and The Weather Network meteorologist Brad Rousseau shows that tornadoes are likely under-reported in Saskatchewan due to population density, and there are more strong/violent tornadoes that occur here than was previously documented.  

Another Environment Canada senior meteorologist Pat McCarthy led a study which concluded that an EF-4 tornado tracking through Winnipeg could kill over 100 people and leave thousands injured. While this might seem alarmist, it’s a fact that a violent tornado will hit a Canadian town or city again as we’ve seen in the past (e.g. Edmonton, Barrie) and we need to be prepared for this eventuality.

We DO experience some of the most violent weather in the world, but the good news is there are very few days in a year when we actually need to be concerned. The key is to have a plan in advance.  Make sure your family is aware of the weather situation on a daily basis and know where to seek shelter if a tornado warning is issued.  

Recent tornadoes in the U.S. have shown that death tolls from violent tornadoes (EF-4, EF-5) are much less for tornado-prepared populations. Our mission at The Weather Network is to make sure residents of Saskatchewan and all Canadians are as prepared as possible for the worst that the weather has to offer. If that means pushing the envelope to get people’s attention on a day with high tornado potential, we won’t hesitate to do that.

Tornado Safety Tips
Severe weather aiming for Eastern Canada
Heat waves in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick: Keeping track of the numbers

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