Canadians should brace themselves for a tornado-heavy rest of the summer, some scientists say.
In the past few weeks alone, there have been three tornadoes and—thanks in part to a strong El Nino phenomenon this year—there are likely more to come.
The most recent tornado touched down near Guelph last Sunday, causing a trail of damage nine kilometers long and tearing the roofs from two homes. On July 27, rural Manitoba experienced an unusually large tornado, and a week before that, a twister hit near Calgary, bringing with it golf-ball-sized hailstones.
While the Manitoba tornado caused relatively minor damage, it was significant in size and, according to radar imagery, touched down for up to three hours. Tornado Hunters host Greg Johnson was only 100 meters away, and captured images of the “incredible” twister, telling the CBC it was among the top four he’s ever seen. “The wind intensity was so strong that there were parts of Highway 256 … that literally had the asphalt stripped off the road’s surface,” he says.
The reasons for tornadoes are complex and not fully understood, but it’s thought that El Nino—a climate event involving warmer-than-usual surface temperatures in the Pacific, which contribute to warmer temperatures in Canada in general—may lead to more storms than usual. John Allen, a scientist with the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University, told the CBC, “El Nino seems to produce the conditions that we would expect to foster more tornadoes in Canada.” But Allen acknowledges that tornadoes are very difficult to predict.
Nevertheless, conditions in the Pacific have been described as “monster El Nino” this year. With climate change upon us, the situation bears watching, some scientists say.
About 60 tornadoes are usually reported in Canada each year, though many more may go unreported. Of the 60, roughly two-thirds are in the Prairies, with the remaining third in Ontario and Quebec.