Calgary

Up to 4 tornadoes over 4 days kept storm chasers busy

Prairie Storm Chasers' Nevin deMilliano gets a thrill out of hopping into his Honda Civic, heading out onto country roads to tail supercells that may turn into tornadoes, just like he did this weekend.

Severe weather kicks off start of storm season in Alberta

Storm clouds as far as the eye can see, taken from the Bow Ridge in Cochrane (Svenja Welk/@SvenjaWelk)

Nevin deMilliano's idea of a good weekend is not what the average person would think. 

The member of the Prairie Storm Chasers gets a thrill out of hopping into his Honda Civic, heading out onto country roads to tail supercells that may turn into tornadoes, just like he did this weekend. 

It was a weekend of severe and erratic weather with tornados touching down, golf ball-sized hail, lightning and heavy rains, all punctuated by rainbows and intense sunshine. Since June 30, Environment Canada issued a series of tornado alerts and severe thunderstorm warnings in central and southern Alberta, from Waterton Lakes to north of Red Deer.

On Sunday, deMilliano's storm chasing took him north of Red Deer, near Killam and Hardisty where he spotted a tornado in a farm field on Sunday, which Environment Canada confirmed on Monday. His peers, meanwhile, spotted another one in Bergen, just north of Airdrie.

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"It's just been a wild weekend with four tornadoes in a row," said deMilliano.

But it's not that unusual at this time of year, bringing  storm chasers out in droves onto the back roads of the prairies.

"It's late June and July so this is our storm season and this is what can happen," deMilliano says.

Though the storms can be fast moving, deMilliano needed a little patience on Sunday.

Taken from the north side of Centre Street bridge. Low clouds and lightning rolled through Calgary all Canada Day weekend. ( Rob Walker/@rwalker_yyc )

"I'd probably been chasing it for an hour at that point and it was a rotating thunderstorm and I'm just looking at it going … it looks really good visually," he said. "And actually at that point I was almost ready to give up on it because it was such a tease. But finally it got its act together and put down that skinny little tornado."

DeMilliano said because it was open field, little damage was done.

The chances of seeing a tornado developing isn't as common as you'd think, even in storm season.

"These supercells, these are what we're looking for when we're forecasting. But only about 10 per cent actually get their act together and produce a tornado. We go for the supercells but we never know if we're going to get a tornado or not."

DeMilliano is sure to keep himself out of danger on a chase, adding not just anyone should go out chasing storms.

On Sunday, when he spotted the tornado, he could see it from the base to the top, which meant he was about one to two kilometres away.

"We try not to get too close. And luckily, especially in Canada … though we have a great storm season but it's not quite the violent or the amount of tornadoes they get down in the States. But you have to stay away and you have to know what you're doing … because it's still erratic weather."

Beth Allan captured this photo near Didsbury. (Beth Allan)

His buddies fortify themselves in an armoured Jeep, so they can get a little closer to the core. The vehicle is also equipped with a weather station where they collect data during a chase.

"That's one of the things we pride ourselves on, being able to report these and how these storms are shaping up," deMilliano says.

DeMilliano's storm-chasing hobby began in his childhood. 

"Since I was a kid, I've either feared storms or wondered  more about them, and one thing led to another. And seeing one of these rotating thunderstorms … there's nothing like that seeing it in person. You really get hooked."

Meanwhile, for Monday, Environment Canada is forecasting increasing cloudiness near noon and 60 per cent chance of showers with a risk of a thunderstorm and similar conditions predicted for Tuesday and Wednesday.

David Phillips, Environment Canada's senior climatologist, said the region typically sees 11 or 12 tornadoes a year because of our proximity to the mountains, the higher land elevation, abundant moisture sources and rising currents as the sun heats the ground. 

But he had a word of caution for anyone tempted to take pictures of tornados, which he called "the grand daddy summer storm."

"Don't go chasing these things, leave that to the experts because you might catch one and may not know what to do in that case," he told the CBC Calgary News at 6.

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