70 per cent of Canadian tornadoes arrived with no tornado warning: report

The aftermath of a tornado can be devastating, which is why a recent report by the Northern Tornadoes Project that showed most of Canada’s twisters arrived with no tornado warning is raising eyebrows.

“The results were not exactly impressive,” said Dr. David Sills, executive director with Western University’s Northern Tornadoes Project.

A study of the last three years of Canadian tornado data by the Northern Tornadoes Project shows that only 12 per cent of tornadoes in Canada were preceded by a tornado warning from Environment Canada — and over 70 per cent struck with no tornado warning at all.

Broken down by year, of 64 tornadoes in 2019, 49 had no tornado warning. In 2020, 53 of 76 twisters had no warning, and last year, 61 of 81 tornadoes arrived with no tornado warning.

Since 2019, 163 of 221 tornadoes occurred with no tornado warning issued by Environment Canada.

“You don’t want to excite too many people that there’s a tornado about to hit their house, but the only way to make sure you don’t miss big events is to get those tornado warnings out there,” said Sills, who used to work for Environment Canada before joining the Northern Tornadoes Project.

Sills said Environment Canada has goals to provide 10 minutes lead time of a tornado 60 per cent of the time. The report suggests they haven’t met that standard very much over the past three years, which government forecasters said just proves how hard it is to forecast tornadoes.

“It is difficult, especially in Canada where the majority of our tornadoes are F0 or F1, so it can be very short lived and have a very small track,” said Environment Canada’s Director of Prediction Services, Joanne St. Coeur.

But, they are working on improving radar capabilities and how they inform the public of a big storm’s arrival, according to St. Coeur.

“I think there is some example in the States of using a polygon to identify the track of the storm or direction of the tornado. I think these are instruments we hope to see in our own Canadian system over the next few years,” she said.

“Just having this wake up call, I think is a step forward for realizing there is a problem and that we can do things to improve upon it,” said Sills.

You can read the Northern Tornadoes Project Tornado Warnings Report here.