Local experts verify 77 tornadoes across Canada in 2020

A tornado in the Glencoe-area, June 10, 2020. Photo courtesy of Sydnie Hill.

Western University’s Northern Tornadoes Project (NTP) confirmed 77 tornadoes across the country last year.

The team’s work increased the number of twisters originally believed to have touched down in 2020 by 166 per cent, the university said.

More than 409 investigations were conducted by NTP throughout the year, despite COVID-19 restrictions which made physically traveling to the affected areas difficult.

“Basically, we couldn’t travel any further than a day’s drive due to restrictions on overnight accommodations,” said NTP Executive Director David Sills. “We relied a lot more on remote sensing and social media. Last March, we knew that was going to be the case so we asked people to contribute more in the way of reports and they did.”

In all, the team conducted 292 satellite surveys, 31 ground surveys, 24 drone surveys and four aircraft surveys in 2020.

The drone technology, which was acquired ahead of last year’s tornado season, captured high-quality, highly accurate damage survey data and images. One of the team’s research engineer went as far as to get his drone licence so NTP could fly drones longer distances without having to keep the remote-controlled aircraft in sight.

“Obviously, we want to get out there in the field and experience the damage from severe and extreme weather first-hand but that just wasn’t possible in 2020,” said Gregory Kopp, ImpactWX chair in severe storms engineering at Western Engineering. “We really want that to change in 2021 but if it doesn’t, we’ve pivoted well, strengthened our team, and we are still able to produce fantastic results despite the restrictions of COVID-19.”

NTP, a partnership between Western University and ImpactWX, has been working since 2017 to better detect tornadoes throughout Canada, improve severe and extreme weather prediction, mitigate against harm to people and property, and investigate future implications due to climate change. Other collaborators involved in the project are The Weather Network, University of Manitoba, York University, and Environment Canada.

To see NTP’s complete 2020 findings click here.