Northern Tornadoes Project launches most comprehensive analysis ever in Canada

A unique, Western University-led project to discover and decode tornadoes in remote Northern Ontario has spun into a nationwide mission to identify every Canadian tornado in 2019.

The Northern Tornadoes Project identified nine tornadoes in 2017, which had previously gone undetected and provided enhanced information for nine others. In 2018, the research team’s aim expanded to finding every tornado in Ontario and improve analysis from coast to coast. The result: 12 previously undetected tornadoes while improving data for another 10.

“The goal for 2019 is to capture every tornado nationally with the intent of finding, assessing, storing data and learning from each significant event,” says Western Engineering professor and Acting Dean Gregory Kopp. “It’s a big goal and it’s a big country but we’re confident we can meet our target.”

The Northern Tornadoes Project is the most comprehensive analysis of these natural disasters ever undertaken in Canada.

Data collection and analysis takes place with the latest radar and satellite technology and extremely high-resolution aerial surveys with a level of detail that can identify individual trees uprooted and their direction of fall, as well as where grasslands have been scarred. The Western Engineering-led team uses satellite, surveillance planes, drones and on-the-ground observation to capture the events and their extent.

“This level of analysis combined with an improved database can help us understand severe and extreme weather, improve early detection, mitigate against damage to people and property, and model future implications for climate change,” says Kopp, who serves as lead researcher for the Northern Tornadoes Project.

The research is a collaboration between Western Engineering and the Meteorological Research Division of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC).

Results of the first two years of the Northern Tornadoes Project are described in a newly published conference paper, with Kopp and ECCC scientist David Sills as primary authors.

Approximately 60 tornadoes are identified and verified in Canada each year. Statistical modelling by ECCC using tornado, lightning, and population data suggests the actual number is almost four times that number, closer to 230 per year.

Many of these tornadoes occur in areas where forest density and remote locale make traditional ground surveys impossible, or in grasslands where damage footprints are more difficult to detect. This project helps fill gaps in tornado climatology and helps improve understanding of tornado occurrence and risk.

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