A home was destroyed when a tornado touched down in Dunrobin, September 21, 2018. Photo courtesy of www.mediarelations.uwo.ca

Western researchers to track every tornado in 2019

A Western University-led team of researchers is making it their mission to track every tornado that touches down on Canadian soil this year.

The undertaking by scientists with the Northern Tornadoes Project is being called the most comprehensive analysis of twisters ever undertaken in the country. Using surveillance planes, drones, and on-the-ground observation, the team hopes to identify tornadoes that would have previously gone undetected.

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

Western Engineering professor and Acting Dean Gregory Kopp. Photo courtesy of www.mediarelations.uwo.ca

Western Engineering professor and Acting Dean Gregory Kopp 

The project began as a unique way to track twisters in Northern Ontario, and in 2017 identified nine previously undetected instances of these natural disasters and improved data on another nine. The research team expanded its area of focus to cover all of Ontario in 2018 and even ended up discovering the largest-ever tornado cluster in Quebec’s history. In total, Western wind engineering experts, through an extensive ground and aerial survey, identified 11 twisters had touched down in the southern part of that province on June 18, 2017.

Approximately 60 tornadoes are identified and verified in Canada each year, but statistical modelling using tornado, lightning, and population data suggests the actual number is almost four times higher, around 230 annually.

To ensure tornadoes that usually fly under the radar don’t get missed anymore, researchers will use the latest radar and satellite technology and extremely high-resolution aerial surveys so detailed they can identify individual uprooted trees and where grasslands have been scarred.

“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,” said Kopp.

The project is a collaboration between Western Engineering and the Meteorological Research Division of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). Results of its first two years of study were detailed in a newly published conference paper by Kopp and ECCC scientist David Sills.