Skip to main content

Tornado surveyors search for damage following first confirmed twister of 2023 in Sask.

Contrary to popular belief, a tornado can’t be rated by the way it looks, rather by the destruction it leaves behind.

Aaron Jaffe, an engineering researcher with the Northern Tornadoes Project (NTP) has worked in the role since 2018.

He was among the researchers who came to Regina following the report of a tornado south of the city.

“The Northern Tornado Project in one sentence is to capture every tornado in Canada. So whenever a potential tornado or severe wind event hits, if we're able, we go out and we survey the damage on the ground.”

The project also uses satellite, aerial scans and drones for its surveys of the aftermath left behind by nature’s fury.

“We're trying to figure out, what was the intensity of the tornado? What kind of path, length and width did it have? And also was there more than one tornado? Was there straight line winds such as downburst and microburst? Which are terms for other kinds of severe wind events that happen as well,” Jaffe said.

“So we figure all this out by combing through all of the data in the field with photos and taking notes and flying drones.”

According to Jaffe, there’s a lot of investigation that’s needed when surveying the effects of a tornado.

“As an example, if you're looking for signs of a tornado, you might be looking for things like a short or a long, thin path of damage. Whereas straight line winds like downbursts tend to cause wide passive damage. Another thing would be the direction debris is thrown in,” he explained.

“So, if debris converges then that could be a sign of a tornado whereas, like, if all the debris has blown one direction or it's like in a divergent sort of fan shape, that's the sign of a downburst.”

“There's the details we want at properties individually and then there's also how we want to look at everything as it connects together,” he added.

Surveying in Saskatchewan is a bit more difficult than elsewhere in Canada, mainly due to the wide open spaces the land of living skies is known for.

“In Saskatchewan, we have a lot of fields, and so there's fewer things that can get hit by the tornadoes and severe wind and so it's hard to piece those things together.”

Regardless of the difficulties, the twister was later confirmed to be an EF1, and the first tornado in Canada of 2023.

All details gathered on these weather events help researchers establish a record, which directly leads into forecasting.

“This information is really important because it's not just understanding the specific tornado that hit Regina on Saturday, it's also understanding long term tornado trends.”

“Are there long term trends that are being influenced by climate change, or anything else that we should be aware about? We also want to look at tornado warnings, what kind of tornado warnings are produced by what kinds of storms?”

From 1980 to 2010, an average of 60 tornados were reported annually in Canada.

In recent years, that figure has grown to around 100.

Jaffe said forecasters hope that more years of improved data collection will help gain an understanding of long-term trends.

“We had all these models that showed we should be getting well over 100 tornadoes. And now sure enough in the past couple of years, we have confirmed over 100 tornadoes a couple of years in a row. It's because we're getting better at finding them. It's not because more are happening,” he said.

“And that's not to say that more aren’t happening, it’s possible that’s the case but it's just we don't know until we have more years of good data collection.”

Canada's ‘tornado alley’ ranges from central Alberta all the way east to southern Quebec.

Jaffe was sure to mention that NTP’s work is made easier with assistance from the public.

“One of the places that we collect information from is just people posting on social media or sending it to the Northern Tornadoes Project when they see damage or have damage to their property.”

“So we're always happy to hear reports coming in, it’s a big help.”

Suspected tornado activity can always be reported to Environment Canada or the NTP. Top Stories

Stay Connected