Northern Tornadoes Project verifies 77 tornadoes in Canada for 2020

Despite restrictions due to the global pandemic, Western’s Northern Tornadoes Project (NTP) still managed 409 investigations in 2020, verifying 77 tornadoes across Canada and increasing the verified count by a remarkable 166 per cent using advanced methods.

Gregory Kopp

Gregory Kopp

Gregory Kopp, ImpactWX Chair in Severe Storms Engineering at Western Engineering, says NTP – like the rest of the world – transitioned swiftly to spartan and often virtual strategies last March relying on a nimble, well-equipped team of experts and investigators (not to mention, some highly engaged citizen scientists) to continue the important work that started when the project launched in 2017.

“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 Kopp. “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.”

All told, NTP conducted 292 satellite surveys, 31 ground surveys, 24 drone surveys and four aircraft surveys in 2020.

By acquiring cutting-edge drone technology in advance of last year’s tornado season, NTP captured high-quality, highly accurate damage survey data and images greatly advancing the team’s severe storm surveys from years prior. NTP research engineer Connell Miller also obtained an advanced drone licence in 2020, allowing NTP to fly drones even longer distances without keeping the remote-controlled pilotless aircrafts in sight.

David Sills

David Sills

NTP executive director David Sills echoes Kopp saying the pandemic obviously played a big factor in investigating during the 2020 tornado season. But a call went out via social media and traditional media to citizen scientists asking for help – and the call was answered.

“The pandemic definitely limited us in terms of travel and how far we could physically go. Basically, we couldn’t travel any further than a day’s drive due to restrictions on overnight accommodations,” said 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.”

The increase in reports from everyday Canadians allowed NTP to greatly expand its user-friendly NTP Open Data website in 2020, too.


Drone photo from the EF1 Beachville, ON tornado on July 19th depicting low-level vegetation damage, clearly showing the path of the tornado. (Photo by Connell Miller, Western University)

Beyond the severe weather event information posted to NTP’s Open Data website, NTP released complete findings from its 2020 severe storm investigations today in their Annual Report.

NTP, founded in 2017 as a partnership between Western University and ImpactWX, aims to better detect tornado occurrence throughout Canada, improve severe and extreme weather prediction, mitigate against harm to people and property, and investigate future implications due to climate change.

Western also partners with Pelmorex-owned The Weather Network, University of Manitoba and York University, and closely collaborates with Environment and Climate Change Canada and several international universities on NTP.

A historical overview of the important research NTP has conducted over the past few years was recently published by high-impact journal Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

In the article, NTP shared their findings from 2017 to 2019. The overview outlines early days of the project, which included pilot investigations during the warm seasons of 2017 and 2018. The scope of the project expanded over the period from the detection of any tornadoes in heavily forested regions of central Canada in 2017 to the detection of all EF1+ tornadoes in Ontario, plus all significant events outside of Ontario in 2018.

The 2019 season was NTP’s first full investigative campaign, as the researchers systematically collected tornado data across the entire country. Up to 2019, NTP found 89 tornadoes that otherwise would not have been identified, and increased the national tornado count in 2019 by 78 per cent.

Belmont Tornado

Drone photo from the EF1 Belmont, ON tornado on June 10th depicting tornado-caused ground scour, as well as the partial collapse. of a barn. (Photo by Connell Miller, Western University)

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