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SEVERE | Tornadic Outbreak

Tornado outbreak: One of Canada's largest now revealed


Erin Wenckstern
Meteorologist

Thursday, April 26, 2018, 4:41 PM - Severe thunderstorms erupted across eastern Canada on a weekend in June of 2017, sparking tornado warnings from the Greater Toronto Area through southern Quebec.

Now, nearly a year later, a newly released study has uncovered this to be Quebec's largest tornado outbreak ever recorded and, consequently, one of the nation's largest.

On June 18th, 2017, supercell thunderstorms tore through southern Quebec, producing large hail, violent winds and an initial report of 4 tornadoes across the province. But a team consisting of wind engineering experts at Western University and severe weather scientist Dr. Dave Sills from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) believed this number to be grossly underestimated.

WATCH: TORNADO CAUGHT ON CAMERA NEAR HEBERTVILLE, QUEBEC ON JUNE 18, 2017


The team from Western and ECCC has embarked on a challenging and far-reaching study called The Northern Tornadoes Project, focused on exposing and documenting unknown tornado cases across Canada, in particular northern and rural regions.

Through extensive aerial and ground surveys across Quebec, the group exhaustively studied a region spanning over 400 km, uncovering 7 previously unknown tornadoes from that eventful day, raising the total number to 11.

A particularly strong tornado recorded in the Ste Anne du Lac area completely levelled two homes on its destructive 30 km track and through further investigation, the tornado was upgraded from an EF2 to EF3 tornado, with estimated wind speeds of 230 km/h. It was the strongest reported tornado from the outbreak.


Aerial and ground survey reveals extensive damage to a home and trees. The tornado tracked on the ground for over 30 km, produced wind speeds up to 230 km/h and at its maximum, was a width of 1300 m. Image courtesy: UWO and ECCC.

ONTARIO TORNADOES

While the latest press release from Western University focuses on the Quebec outbreak, the team also discovered two undetected tornadoes in the Dryden area of northern Ontario; one from June 14, 2017 and the other from July 25, 2017.

CHALLENGE WITH CONFIRMING TORNADOES

Canada is large -- 9,984,670 square kilometres, to be exact. The challenge arises because tornadoes, in comparison to our country, are infinitesimally small, forming on scales of hundreds of metres, quickly producing hyperlocal damage. The fact that most of our civilians live in densely-populated southern areas and our radar network outside of it is sparse leads to the underrepresentation of tornado formation in these regions.

TIMELAPSE: SEVERE THUNDERSTORM FROM JUNE 18, 2017


It's similar to the age old saying: "If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?" Well in the case of severe weather in Canada, the saying can be morphed into "If a tornado touches down in a rural area, does it leave any damage?" Of course the answer is yes, but discovering and confirming that damage is quite challenging in these radar and population sparse regions, especially if there is no one to spot or report it.

RELATED: Current tornado drought could mean strong ones later

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT

“Many Canadians don’t realize that we can have intense tornadoes in the northern regions of the country," says Greg Kopp, a Western Engineering Professor and Associate Dean (Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies), who is the the lead researcher for the Northern Tornadoes Project. "The goal of our project is to identify as many of these as we can, so that we can better define the true risk in those areas."

Understanding the true distribution of tornadoes is crucial for severe weather climatology. A study involving all confirmed Canadian tornadoes from 1980 through 2009 revealed our national average to be roughly 62 tornadoes per year.

Canadian tornadoes and intensities from 1980 to 2009. Image courtesy: ECCC, David Sills et al.

Tornado 101: Everything you need to know about staying safe

But a more recent analysis, also led by Dr. Dave Sills from ECCC, which included The Weather Network's meteorologist Brad Rousseau, concluded that this average poorly represented tornadoes that form in northern communities. Through statistical methods and global lightning data, the team revealed a more realistic Canadian average... around 230 tornadoes per year!

That's why research being conducted by The Northern Tornadoes Project is crucial. It opens Canadians' eyes to the fact that severe weather, while more uncommon, can occur in any province or territory, regardless of how north it is.

Special thanks to the Northern Tornadoes Project members Greg Kopp, Joanne Kennell and Emilio Hong from Western’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and David Sills from Environment and Climate Change Canada, as well as the Quebec Storm Prediction Centre for their initial assessments.

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