Many Canadian Tornadoes Too Polite to Get Noticed

If a tornado touches down in Saskatchewan and no one is around to hear it, does it still sound like a freight train?

This modified saying is surprisingly relevant in Canada, a country with the second-most tornadoes of anywhere on the planet. And yet, despite their relative frequency, scientists believe many Canadian tornadoes go untracked and unnoticed.

“If we’re ever going to pin down how climate change is affecting this stuff for real, we need accurate quantification — not only of how many tornadoes happen, but where,” Ian Giammanco, a meteorologist at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home
Safety, told The New York Times.

A group of scientists at the Northern Tornadoes Project (NTP) at Western University in London, Ontario, is hoping to help. For the last few years, the group’s used crowdsourcing, drone footage, social media, and satellite imagery to get a better handle on Canada’s twisters. The result is two years in a row of the most confirmed Canadian tornadoes.

Scientists at NTP noted it’s likely the count is higher because of their increased observation. And though they also think climate change is altering tornado activity in Canada, they can’t yet verify whether their observations indicate more tornadoes.

“We’re just putting so much more effort into finding these things,” said David Sills, director of the NTP, told the newspaper. “We’re trying to have an impact.”

A man mows his lawn in rural Alberta, seemingly oblivious to a nearby tornado.

A man mows his lawn in rural Alberta, seemingly oblivious to a nearby tornado. Photo: Cecilia Wessels


How can you miss a tornado?

The problem is Canada’s size relative to its population density. Canada is second only to Russia in terms of landmass, but most of its citizens live near the U.S. border. That leaves a lot of space to the north, where tornadoes can and do touch down unnoticed by anyone who isn’t a moose.

Tornadoes are especially prevalent in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta — the prairie provinces that roughly correspond with Tornado Alley in the U.S.

The use of drones and crowdsourcing information has been especially effective for the NTP, according to the Times. While improving constantly, satellite imagery still isn’t sophisticated enough to tell the difference between a tornado and other wind events like downbursts and straight-line winds.

Getting an accurate count on the true number of Canadian tornadoes is about more than tracking climate change. Even though most Canadian tornadoes seem to touch down in the middle of nowhere, they sometimes strike in the densely populated areas along the border.

a tornado forms over the prairie in Saskatchewan.

A tornado forms near canola fields in prairie Saskatchewan. Photo: Shutterstock


In 2019, Sills told the CBC that the Canadian government “hasn’t been doing very well,” at notifying its citizens of tornadoes.

“About 70 percent of tornadoes had no tornado warning on them — and that included most of the EF-2 tornadoes that we have in our database,” he said.

Building an accurate map of yearly tornadoes in Canada can help meteorologists better predict where and when a tornado might strike, and could be life-saving.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew’s essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals.
You can find more of his work at, @andrewmarshallimages on Instagram and Facebook, and @pawn_andrew on Twitter (for as long as that lasts).