Storm Chasing in Canada: Tracking Nature’s Fury

Canada, known for its diverse landscapes and vast expanses, is also home to a unique meteorological phenomenon – severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. While storm chasing is more commonly associated with the United States, particularly in the infamous “Tornado Alley,” Canada experiences its fair share of severe weather events, attracting both professional meteorologists and amateur storm chasers.

Meteorology Behind Canadian Storm Chasing The formation of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes in Canada is primarily influenced by the collision of contrasting air masses. During the summer months, warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and the United States Great Plains often clashes with cooler, drier air from the Arctic. This collision creates instability in the atmosphere, leading to the development of powerful supercell thunderstorms.

Additionally, Canada’s unique topography plays a role in storm formation. The prairies, with their flat, open landscapes, allow for uninterrupted wind flow and the creation of strong updrafts necessary for tornado development. The presence of the Rocky Mountains to the west also contributes to the formation of severe weather, as the mountains can help channel and intensify storm systems.

Prime Storm Chasing Locations in Canada

  1. Southern Ontario: This region, particularly the area extending from Windsor to Toronto, experiences the highest frequency of tornadoes in Canada. The proximity to the Great Lakes and the convergence of air masses make this area a hotspot for severe weather.
  2. Alberta: Known as “Hailstorm Alley,” central and southern Alberta often experience severe thunderstorms capable of producing large hail, damaging winds, and occasional tornadoes. Cities like Calgary and Red Deer are prime locations for storm chasers.
  3. Saskatchewan: The southern portions of Saskatchewan, especially along the border with the United States, are prone to severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. The flat, open prairies provide an ideal environment for storm development.
  4. Manitoba: Similar to Saskatchewan, southern Manitoba experiences severe weather due to its location and topography. The Red River Valley, in particular, is a corridor for intense storm systems.

Tornado Statistics by Province According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, the average number of reported tornadoes per year in each province is as follows:

  1. Ontario: 12-18
  2. Alberta: 10-15
  3. Saskatchewan: 8-12
  4. Manitoba: 6-10
  5. Quebec: 4-8
  6. New Brunswick: 1-2
  7. British Columbia: 0-1
  8. Nova Scotia: 0-1
  9. Prince Edward Island: 0-1
  10. Newfoundland and Labrador: 0-1

It is important to note that these numbers are based on reported tornadoes and may not reflect the actual occurrence, as some tornadoes in remote areas may go undetected.

Storm chasing in Canada is a thrilling and scientifically valuable pursuit, but it also comes with inherent risks. Chasers must be well-prepared, equipped with proper safety gear, and knowledgeable about severe weather dynamics. It is crucial to respect the power of nature and prioritize personal safety above all else.

As climate change continues to influence weather patterns worldwide, studying severe weather events in Canada becomes increasingly important.

Top 5 Weather Events in Canada

Edmonton Tornado (July 31, 1987)
Also known as “Black Friday,” this devastating F4 tornado struck eastern Edmonton, Alberta, causing 27 fatalities, injuring over 300 people, and resulting in an estimated $330 million in damages (adjusted for inflation). It remains the deadliest tornado in Canadian history and one of the most destructive in terms of property damage.

Pine Lake Tornado (July 14, 2000)
An F3 tornado touched down near Pine Lake, a popular camping area in central Alberta, claiming 12 lives and injuring over 100 people. The tornado caused widespread damage to the Green Acres Campground, destroying numerous trailers and vehicles. It is the second-deadliest tornado in Canadian history.

Windsor – Tecumseh, Ontario Tornado (June 17, 1946)
This powerful F4 tornado struck the towns of Windsor and Tecumseh in southwestern Ontario, causing 17 fatalities and over 200 injuries. It remains the third-deadliest tornado in Canadian history and caused significant damage to residential areas and infrastructure.

Calgary Hailstorm (June 13, 2020)
A severe thunderstorm produced large hail over Calgary, Alberta, causing an estimated $1.2 billion in insured damages, making it the fourth-costliest natural disaster in Canadian history. The hailstorm damaged numerous homes, vehicles, and buildings across the city.

Southern Ontario Derecho (May 21, 2022)
A powerful derecho, a widespread and long-lived windstorm associated with a line of severe thunderstorms, swept across southern Ontario, causing significant damage and power outages. The storm resulted in 10 fatalities and affected major cities such as Toronto, Ottawa, and London. Wind gusts exceeding 120 km/h were recorded, and the event is considered one of the most impactful derechos in Canadian history.

Well-known Storm Chasers in Canada:

Mark Robinson: A meteorologist and storm chaser based in Ontario, Robinson is the founder of The Weather Network’s “Storm Hunters” team. He has been chasing storms across Canada and the United States for over two decades.

Greg Johnson: Known as “Tornado Hunter,” Johnson is a Saskatchewan-based storm chaser and photographer who has been documenting severe weather events for more than 20 years. His work has been featured in numerous publications and documentaries.

Justin Hobson: A storm chaser and photographer based in Alberta, Hobson is known for his stunning images of severe weather events across the Canadian Prairies.

Weather Radar Network and Forecast Models:
Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) operates the Canadian weather radar network, which consists of 31 Doppler radars across the country. These radars provide real-time data on precipitation intensity, wind velocity, and storm structure, aiding in the detection and tracking of severe weather events.
ECCC also utilizes several forecast models to predict weather patterns and severe weather potential:

Global Environmental Multiscale (GEM) Model: This is the primary forecast model used by ECCC, providing short-range and medium-range weather forecasts for Canada and the world.
High Resolution Deterministic Prediction System (HRDPS): A high-resolution model that provides detailed short-range forecasts for specific regions in Canada, focusing on severe weather events.
Canadian Precipitation Analysis (CaPA): A system that combines radar, satellite, and surface observations to provide a comprehensive analysis of precipitation across Canada.


Environment and Climate Change Canada Weather Radar:
Canadian Centre for Meteorological and Environmental Prediction:
The Weather Network Storm Hunters:
Greg Johnson Tornado Hunter:
Justin Hobson Photography:

The Midwest Derecho: An Unforgettable Tempest’s Trail of Wind Destruction (August 10, 2020)

The date August 10, 2020, is etched in the memories of millions across the Midwest, a day when the skies unleashed a tempest of unimaginable fury. A derecho, a powerful and expansive windstorm, ripped through the heartland, leaving a trail of devastation that stretched from South Dakota to Ohio. This wasn’t just a storm; it was a meteorological monster, its ferocity exceeding expectations and its impact leaving communities reeling in its wake.

The storm’s genesis lay in the atmospheric instability brewing over South Dakota and Nebraska. Thunderstorms erupted, fueled by a potent mix of warm, moist air and strong upper-level winds. These storms, initially isolated, began to coalesce into a line, forming a squall line, a telltale sign of a developing derecho. This line of storms, propelled by the jet stream, raced eastward at speeds exceeding 70 mph, evolving into a meteorological juggernaut.

Iowa found itself directly in the derecho’s path, bearing the brunt of its wrath. Wind gusts of up to 140 mph, equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane, tore through cities and towns. Cedar Rapids, a city of over 130,000, was particularly devastated. The winds, relentless and unforgiving, peeled roofs off buildings, tossed vehicles like rag dolls, and uprooted centuries-old trees. The city’s landscape was transformed into a scene of utter chaos, with debris littering the streets and power lines dangling precariously.

The derecho’s impact extended far beyond Cedar Rapids. Across Iowa, an estimated 14 million acres of cropland were damaged or destroyed, representing roughly a third of the state’s corn and soybean crops. The agricultural industry, the backbone of Iowa’s economy, suffered a staggering blow, with losses estimated in the billions of dollars. The storm’s fury also left millions without power, plunging homes and businesses into darkness and disrupting daily life for weeks.

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the derecho’s arrival was swift and brutal. At approximately 11:15 am, the sky turned an ominous green as the leading edge of the storm approached. Within minutes, the city was engulfed in a maelstrom of wind and rain. Residents huddled in basements and interior rooms as the deafening roar of the wind filled the air. Trees snapped like twigs, roofs were peeled off buildings, and debris flew through the air like missiles. One resident recounted the terrifying experience of watching a large tree crash through his living room window, narrowly missing him and his family.

The storm’s impact on rural communities was equally devastating. Farmers watched in disbelief as their corn and soybean fields, once lush and green, were flattened in a matter of minutes. Grain bins were crumpled like soda cans, and barns and outbuildings were reduced to piles of debris. One farmer, who had worked the land for over 50 years, described the scene as “total devastation,” his livelihood wiped away in an instant. The derecho’s impact on agriculture reverberated throughout the region, disrupting supply chains and causing food prices to rise.

As the derecho continued its eastward rampage, it maintained its intensity, leaving its mark on Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Chicago experienced wind gusts exceeding 90 mph, causing widespread power outages and bringing the city’s bustling transportation system to a standstill. In Indiana, the storm spawned several tornadoes, adding to the destruction. Even as the derecho weakened, it continued to produce damaging winds and heavy rain, extending its reach over 770 miles and impacting millions.

The meteorological intricacies that birthed and sustained this derecho were complex. A key factor was the presence of a strong upper-level jet stream, which provided the necessary wind shear to organize the thunderstorms into a line and propel them forward at breakneck speeds. Additionally, a pre-existing mesoscale convective system (MCS), a large cluster of thunderstorms, served as the derecho’s building block, providing a source of lift and moisture.

As the derecho matured, it developed a bow echo, a characteristic radar signature associated with destructive straight-line winds. The bow echo, shaped like an archer’s bow, indicated the presence of a powerful downdraft, which spread out upon reaching the ground, generating the hurricane-force winds that ravaged the Midwest. The combination of these factors created a perfect storm, a derecho of unprecedented power and scope.

Derechos have a long and destructive history in the United States, with several notable events leaving their mark on the nation’s memory. One of the most infamous derechos occurred on June 29, 2012, sweeping across the Mid-Atlantic region and causing widespread damage from Indiana to the East Coast. This derecho, known as the “Super Derecho” due to its exceptional intensity and scope, produced wind gusts exceeding 100 mph and left millions without power. The 2012 derecho traveled over 700 miles and caused an estimated $2.9 billion in damage, highlighting the destructive potential of these powerful windstorms.

Another significant derecho event occurred on May 8, 1995, impacting a large portion of the Midwest. This derecho, which originated in Kansas, traveled over 1,000 miles and produced wind gusts of up to 120 mph. The storm caused widespread damage to trees, power lines, and structures, leaving over 2 million people without power. The 1995 derecho was particularly notable for its long duration, lasting for over 12 hours, and its extensive path, which stretched from Kansas to the East Coast.

The Midwest derecho of 2020 stands out for several reasons. Its peak wind gusts of 140 mph were among the highest ever recorded for a derecho, rivaling the intensity of a major hurricane. The storm’s impact on agriculture was particularly severe, with millions of acres of crops damaged or destroyed, causing significant economic losses. Additionally, the derecho’s rapid intensification and relatively short warning time caught many off guard, underscoring the challenges of forecasting and preparing for these powerful windstorms. While derechos are not uncommon in the Midwest, the 2020 event served as a stark reminder of their destructive potential and the importance of remaining vigilant during severe weather events.

The Midwest derecho of 2020 stands as a stark reminder of the unpredictable and destructive nature of severe weather. Its impact extended far beyond the immediate damage to infrastructure and agriculture, leaving a lasting mark on the lives of millions. The storm exposed vulnerabilities in infrastructure and emergency response systems, prompting a reevaluation of preparedness measures and a call for increased investment in resilient infrastructure. As communities rebuild and recover, the memory of the derecho serves as a powerful motivator to strengthen defenses against future storms and ensure the safety and well-being of those who call the Midwest home.