Fort Smith’s June 2 tornado may have been the fourth on record north of 60, but researchers think many more go undetected.

An uprooted tree covers a truck following the tornado in Fort Smith in June. The storm was the fourth on record in the NWT, but researchers say many go undetected.
NNSL file photo

“There is a project going on, called the Northern Tornadoes Project out of Western University, where they are trying to confirm every tornado that occurs over Canada,” said
Kyle Fougere, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

“Since we know we only get reports of probably less than 40 per cent (of the actual number of tornadoes), they’re using a lot of techniques including high resolution satellite imagery and remote sensing to try to track the weather.”

Previously, if no one saw a tornado in Canada’s low-population areas, such as the NWT, it would likely be undetected.

On June 2, a tornado ripped through Fort Smith, travelling 1.5 kilometres with windspeeds of up to 175 kilometres per hour.
On June 18, the fire department presented to town council that it was not experienced in responding to tornadoes but had good mechanisms in place to deal with the emergency.

“Additionally, they are using the experience to make changes and are addressing areas for improvement in responding,” states the minutes from the town council meeting.

Fougere says there are only four tornadoes, plus one water spout, on record in Canada north of 60, including the one this year.

In 2015 there was a water spout on Great Slave Lake near Hay River. In 2006, there was a tornado that hit the Caribou and Blanchet islands on Great Slave Lake. In 1978, there was a tornado in Yellowknife and, in 1959, one hit Watson Lake, Yukon.

“We have had other pictures of funnel clouds that we weren’t able to confirm if the tornado actually reached the surface—they didn’t do any damage,” said Fougere.
“There are likely many more tornadoes that do form in the Northwest Territories.

“When you just look at the lightning statistics that we do have, it’s likely that there are more tornadoes up there, particularly near the Great Slave Lake area—south towards the Caribou Mountains (in Alberta) and west towards the Mackenzie Mountains.”

The boreal forest’s propensity for wildfires can also cause unpredictable, extreme weather events.

Fougere said that when fires get large, they start creating their own weather systems, which affect large areas around them.

“You have a very strong rising motions with all the heat that’s produced,” said Fougere. “Winds are drawn into the fire so they can create their own kind of wind patterns. They can create their own lightning.”

The Northern Tornadoes Project, which sent a member to investigate Fort Smith’s event, is a partnership between Western University, Environment and Climate Change Canada and ImpactWx. It makes its data available online and is asking citizen scientists to report potential tornadoes, especially if the person has pictures.

Tornadoes can be reported, and data observed, on the Northern Tornadoes Project website.