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Ontario may now be Canada's tornado capital, researchers say

File photo. File photo.

A Prairie province previously thought to be the tornado capital of Canada has been dethroned by Ontario, according to new data by tornado researchers out of Western University.

David Sills, the executive director of the Northern Tornadoes Project (NTP), which was launched in 2017 to gather data on tornado occurrences, said that earlier statistical analysis showed that southern Saskatchewan should be the “big bull's eye in Canada for tornado activity.”

“Since we started the project, the number of tornadoes in Saskatchewan has not been nearly as much as we thought,” Sills told on Wednesday.

Sills said researchers look at the climatology of tornados over 30-year periods. Between 1980 and 2009, Saskatchewan took top spot in Canada with 17.4 tornadoes per year.

“We just did an updated version, a new 30-year period from 1991 to 2020, and lo and behold it's Ontario that comes up on top (with) 18.3 tornadoes per year,” Sills said.

“We were finding in Ontario and in Quebec, there's been quite a bit of activity since we started the project. So that's been a bit of a surprise all of the tornado activity that's going on in Eastern Canada.”

Sills said since the NTP was launched, it has documented “well over” 700 tornadoes across Canada.

“Initially we just wanted to see if we could find some of the missing tornadoes we thought were happening in northern Ontario or northern Quebec in the forests where we don't get a lot of reports,” he said.

“That was so successful that by 2019, we had started doing all of the tornadoes across Canada. Basically anything that was detected as far as being a tornado or just wind damage, we would investigate and put as part of our data set to document that event.”

'Not a good trend'

Sills said it appears that tornadoes are happening a little less in traditional “tornado alley areas,” a pattern that has been documented in the U.S.

“More tornadoes (are) happening in the eastern part of the country, which is also the more populated part of the country. So that's not a good trend,” he said.

“We have a lot going on as far as climate change and droughts and forest fires. All these are factors that come in that influence where tornadoes are going to develop.”

Sills said the project is helping researchers get a better picture of where tornadoes are actually occurring in the country.

“Before the project started, the average number of tornadoes in Canada per year that were documented was about 60. Now we're up at about 100. So we really increased the number of tornadoes that we're capturing every year through this project. That kind of changes our climatology,” he said.

“We’re trying to get closer to reality, right? What's really happening, which we didn't know before. We mostly knew about what was happening in populated areas and not across the entire country. So we have a better idea now.”

CTV weather specialist Jess Smith explained that the ingredients for a tornado include warm moist air near the ground, cooler and drier air higher up in the atmosphere, and wind shear, a variation in wind speed and direction.

“With more heat wave events happening earlier and earlier into the summer season and overall warmer summers, it’s reasonable to expect more thunderstorms that can produce tornadoes and tornadic activity,” she told

Community awareness needed

The goal of the NTP, Sills said, is not only gather data about tornadoes but to mitigate any harm to people and property.

“If tornadoes are starting to move into more populated areas, certainly we need to start thinking about making communities more resilient and we are working on that… That's things like using the hurricane ties to make sure that the roof stays on a house if you have an EF-2 tornado, for instance,” he said.

“If we can keep the roof on in those tornadoes, we've got most of the problem solved as far as keeping the homes intact and people not losing the contents of the house when the roof comes off.”

He noted that areas with more “community awareness” of tornadoes typically are cities and towns that have experienced big tornadoes in the past, including Barrie, which saw an EF-4 tornado back in 1985.

“That is a community that really knows about tornadoes, that has this kind of community awareness of tornadoes probably better than other communities that haven’t been hit by a tornado,” he said.

“In general, I think people aren't aware that all the things they see on television about tornadoes causing all this destruction, we can get that here, especially June through August in Canada. We certainly can get those big tornadoes. It's just they happen less frequently here.”

He urged people to keep an eye on Environment Canada’s warnings and watches and subscribe to the national weather agency’s cellphone push alerts.

“It's something that has saved lives,” he added.

Sills said Ontario has already seen a busy start to tornado season.

“We’ve still got July and August and even into September to go,” he said. Top Stories

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