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Could a tornado outbreak sweep through Ontario again?

Monday, June 15th 2020, 2:14 pm - There have been multiple tornado outbreaks over the years in Ontario. The question is, will they happen again?

The 2020 tornado season in Ontario is officially underway with the first two touching down amid severe thunderstorms Wednesday, June 10.

While that may seem like a lot in one day, it really isn't, especially in Ontario. The province has experienced several tornadoes in a single day on multiple occasions, mostly notably on May 31, 1985, Aug. 2, 2006 and Aug. 20, 2009. All three events featured more than 10 tornadoes touching down - 14, 17 and 19, respectively. The latter was the largest single-day outbreak in the province's history.

As well, two of the three outbreaks featured fatalities, with the death toll reaching 16 in the 1985 event, while one person was killed on Aug. 20, 2009.

RELATED: Black Friday 1985: Remembering one of Canada's biggest tornado outbreaks

So, will these outbreaks happen again? We posed that question to The Weather Network's veteran storm hunters and meteorologists, Mark Robinson and Jaclyn Whittal. Here's what they had to offer on the possibility of another outbreak occurring in Ontario.

Tornado tracks 2009


Robinson pointed to Ontario's previous outbreaks, acknowledging that the province can see outbreaks similar to those in Tornado Alley. He was quick to point out they're not common in Ontario, indicative by the amount of time passed in between them.

However, if the necessary meteorological conditions are correct and line up, they can certainly occur in the province.

"All that you need is a tremendous amount of energy in the atmosphere, plus a good amount of wind shear. Put those two things together, with a trigger, and you absolutely can have an outbreak," said Robinson.

There are two reasons attributed to their infrequency, according to the Weather Network meteorologist. The first is the geographical size of southern Ontario, a relatively small part of North America, a contributing factor in why it's not prone to outbreaks.

Tornado Outbreak May31, 1985

The other reason has to do with the storm signatures. As low-pressure systems track through, they are not as likely to develop widespread, discrete thunderstorm cells, which are more favourable for tornadic development. More often, we see long, linear-type storms.

The Storm Hunter reiterated, however, the possibility of another tornado outbreak occurring in the province, as it's "something we definitely need to pay attention to."

"As I said, if you get the meteorological conditions, you get the timing right, everything lines up, you can absolutely have an outbreak [of tornadoes] here in southern Ontario," said Robinson. "But it's not going to be quite as bad or quite as often as what we see down in the United States."


Whittal also chimed in on the potential for another outbreak and echoed Robinson's comments about the chances. While many people may think that destructive tornadoes only happen in places like Kansas, as portrayed in the movies, "it's absolutely inaccurate," she said.

"While statistically it is rare for this area to get destructive EF-4 or EF-5 tornadoes, it could happen," the veteran Storm Hunter said. "There is no meteorological reason why it couldn't happen again in Ontario like we saw in 1985."

Tornado tracks 2018

If the words chosen by Whittal have scared you, fear not. If it were to happen again soon, it would play out much differently, mainly because of the timeliness of the warnings and the role of social media, Whittal said.

"It is worrisome, though, [that] our province has many more people calling Ontario home now, [so] the population has grown significantly," she says.

"Mother Nature does not care where you live. If atmospheric conditions are just right, we could see another tornado like the [outbreak] in 1985."

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