Vilonia, Arkansas

Homes and businesses were wrecked in downton Vilonia, Ark., after a tornado struck the town late Sunday. The most powerful twister this year carved an 130-kilometre path of destruction through suburbs north of the state capital of Little Rock, killing at least 16 people. (Danny Johnston/AP)

Tornadoes such as the ones that have been hitting the southern United States are not unfamiliar to Saskatchewan, however the warning systems are much different in this country than they are in the U.S., where cities and even small towns are able to warn residents with sirens.

There were 17 confirmed tornadoes the province last year, with an average of 41 across the prairie provinces combined, and Environment Canada meteorologist Natalie Hasell says that number may in fact be under reported.

“Because we have a lot of space between our established cities and towns, there's a great likelihood that there are many more events than what we're hearing,” she said.  

Currently, Environment Canada depends on its own Weather Radio warning system, as well as TV, radio and online notifications to tell people about severe weather. Those systems were updated after a major tornado in Edmonton in 1987, but Environment Canada is testing a new system that would personally notify those who subscribe.

Alberta's system considered strongest

Hasell says the new system would include email and text message notifications about severe weather, but the older methods of notification are still important.

“Weather Radio is still a really robust system. It’s really quite good, it’s really quite simple,” she said. “If you can make that investment then you're pretty much set.”

That investment involves a desktop receiver which scans radio frequencies and can be programmed to set off an alarm if a severe weather warning is issued for a specific region. They can be purchased for less than $100.

Currently, Alberta has the most proactive warning system, with social media and specific weather websites keeping the province's residents in the know.

'There's a great likelihood that there are many more events than what we're hearing.' - Natalie Hasell

Saskatchewan is teaming up with Alberta to beef up its own notification system, in an effort to get the text and email system up sooner.

The system is active in the western part of the province from Meadow Lake to Swift Current and if it is successful there, it will be made available across all of Saskatchewan.

The most deadly tornado in Canadian history claimed 28 lives in Regina in 1912.

Environment Canada hopes to have its new system, including text and email notifications, running nation-wide by next year.

Adrian Cheung