Experts find that Canada tied its all-time tornado record in 2022

Researchers with Western University’s Northern Tornadoes Project found that 2022 tied 2021 for the most tornadoes ever recorded in Canada.

Experts with Western University’s Northern Tornadoes Project (NTP) confirmed this month that 117 tornadoes touched down across Canada in 2022, tying the all-time record number of tornadoes set just one year earlier.

The record stands in the book with an asterisk, though. It’s not quite that Canada had more tornadoes in 2022 and 2021 than ever before—scientists are just better than ever at finding evidence of tornadoes that would’ve gone unnoticed just a few years ago.

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Crews scoured imagery collected by satellites and drones, flew over suspected tornado paths in airplanes, and inspected damage firsthand in their effort to document every tornado that touched down in Canada in 2022.

(NTP) Tornado damage in Foam Lake, Saskatchewan, on June 29, 2022

Tornado damage in Foam Lake, Saskatchewan, on June 29, 2022 (Northern Tornadoes Project)

After nearly 500 surveys, the NTP determined that 117 tornadoes touched down in Canada last year, tying the all-time record set back in 2021.

While most of the tornadoes targeted Ontario and Quebec, last year’s storm activity marked a return to normal across the Prairies after an unusually quiet 2021 produced only a handful of twisters across the middle of the country.

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Ontario led the pack with 51 tornadoes, followed by Quebec’s 26 twisters. Another 25 formed in Saskatchewan, with eight in Alberta and six in Manitoba. One additional tornado touched down in northwestern New Brunswick.

Some tornadoes were significant

Surveyors estimate a tornado’s maximum winds based on the damage it leaves behind. Certain degrees of damage to trees and structures can allow scientists to estimate the tornado’s wind speeds at that location.

Most of 2022’s tornadoes were on the weaker side and produced little or no damage. 29 of those tornadoes produced significant damage, however, receiving an EF-2 rating on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale. EF-2 tornadoes pack estimated winds of 180-220 km/h.

(NTP) Tornado damage Actinolite, Ontario July 24 2022

Drone imagery of damage in Actinolite, Ontario, from the EF-2 tornado that swept through on July 24, 2022. (Northern Tornadoes Project)

One of the year’s worst tornadoes touched down in southern Ontario on the evening of July 24, cutting a path 55 km long along Highway 7 between Belmont Lake and Actinolite, northeast of Peterborough.

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The EF-2 tornado produced significant damage in Actinolite and injured multiple people along its path, “including a pickup truck lofted and thrown approx. 25 m” and “an occupied trailer flipped and a vehicle damaged by debris,” according to the NTP survey of the storm.

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Tornadoes that don’t produce any damage receive an EF-0 rating by default. 41 tornadoes last year left behind no damage and received this default rating, according to the NTP’s data.

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The finding is an important step for Canadian tornado research

It may seem counterintuitive, but this finding is an encouraging step in the field of tornado research in Canada.

It’s highly likely that many more tornadoes touch down in remote parts of Canada than are officially recorded every year.

The vast size of the country—the second-largest in the world—makes it difficult to record the true number of tornadoes that touch down in any given year.

According to its release, experts with the NTP estimate that Canada’s true annual tornado count hovers around 150 twisters in an average year.

“It appears the number of ‘missing tornadoes’ in Canada is gradually dropping due to the continually improving efforts of NTP,” said David Sills, executive director of the NTP.

Thumbnail courtesy of Beth J in Leslieville, Alberta.