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Tornado experts credit average Canadians for helping them gather data in 2020

COVID-19 restrictions made it a bit more challenging for experts to survey the damage at the site of every twister that touched Canadian soil, but researchers from Western University say they were still able to get the job done, partly thanks to the average Canadian. 

The Northern Tornadoes Project conducted 409 investigations and verified 77 tornadoes in 2020

Meaghan Ryersee captured this photo of a funnel cloud that touched down in Kincaid, Sask., in July of 2020. (Twitter/Meaghan Ryersee)

COVID-19 restrictions made it a bit more challenging for experts to survey the damage at the site of every twister that touched Canadian soil in 2020, but researchers from Western University in London, Ont., say they were still able to get the job done, partly thanks to the average Canadian. 

"We developed our own twitter hashtag and people started to use it and when people would see things they would tell us about it and send us photographs that helped us when finding satellite imagery." said Greg Kopp, the lead researcher with Western University's Northern Tornadoes Project (NTP) and ImpactWX chair in severe storms engineering.

"In some cases, storm chasers actually went out and took photographs for us for particular things we couldn't get to, so it became a much larger community effort than it had been in the past and we think that was a great thing."

Under regular circumstances, Kopp said, a team from NTP would fly or drive to the site of a tornado in order to collect first-hand data, but COVID-19 restrictions limited the team to only make trips in southern Ontario, to places that were close enough they didn't have to stay the night.

"In a lot of our assessments we're trying to assess how strong the tornado was based on the damage we observe and to do that, you need to look at details of the buildings and things that were damaged. We hunt for the nails, the trusses, the sheeting and look at how the buildings were put together," Kopp explained. 

"We lost a bit of that this year, but we really did gain with the community."

Between the team's limited trips, cutting-edge drone technology, partnerships with the University of Manitoba, York University, The Weather Network and very-engaged citizens, Kopp said NTP conducted 409 investigations and verified 77 tornadoes across the country. 

A photo taken by amateur storm chaser Misheyla Iwasiuk shows a tornado touching down in a field near Scarth, Man., 273 kilometres west of Winnipeg. (Misheyla Iwasiuk/Twitter@misheylaiwasiuk)

Kopp said for him the most memorable and tragic tornado of the year was one in August near Scarth, Man., which killed two people. 

"It was the most intense tornado of the year. It was a beautiful looking tornado, but it was destructive and terrifying at the same time. The imagery from it is quite profound."

In order to investigate the Scarth tornado, Kopp said their partners at the University of Manitoba played a crucial role in getting drone imagery. There were also storm chasers who were right there when it happened who also provided videos. 

In total, NTP conducted 292 satellite surveys, 31 ground surveys, 24 drone surveys as well as four aircraft surveys in 2020. 

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