Is Manitoba getting more tornadoes than usual? Don't get sucked in by the spin

It might feel like Manitoba is getting a lot more tornadoes and severe Prairie storms than usual this year, but at least part of that feeling can be explained away by that smartphone in your pocket.

Tornado numbers remain within same ball park as most recent years, Environment Canada says

Tornado rips through Waywayseecappo. Video: Eric Mentuck

5 years ago
Duration 2:11
Several homes were damaged and dozens of people have been temporarily displaced after a tornado swept through Waywayseecappo First Nation Monday night, about 280 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg. 2:11

It might feel like Manitoba is getting a lot more tornadoes and severe Prairie storms than usual this year, but at least part of that feeling can be explained away by that smartphone in your pocket.

According to Environment Canada, Manitoba usually gets hit with between eight and 12 tornadoes a year. So far this year, the weather agency says we have had between 10 to 14 tornadoes spin  through the south, which is still considered in the same ball park as recent years.

Four of the tornadoes this year weren't considered under the umbrella of "severe weather," but were classified as landspouts by Environment Canada.

As twisters whipped their way through southern Manitoba this summer, they were recorded on smartphones and went viral on Facebook and Twitter, garnering thousands of views and shares. 

RAW: Tornado tears roof apart, tips bus over in Waywayseecappo First Nation

5 years ago
Duration 0:50
A tornado damaged homes and property, even flipping a 72-passenger school bus as it tore through Waywayseecappo First Nation Monday night. Jason Mckee recorded the tornado next door. 0:50

On Monday night three tornadoes touched down in southwestern Manitoba, one of which destroyed a home, damaged a few others and displaced up to 50 people in Waywayseecappo First Nation.

A few days earlier, a funnel cloud and two tornadoes were reported, one of which destroyed a barn full of sheep and damaged other farms in the Glenboro, Man., area.

Near the end of July, a landspout tornado reportedly touched down near Russell, Man., a mere 25 kilometres northwest of Waywayseecappo.

Those twisters and landspouts spun through the southwest less than two or three weeks after an EF 1 (Enhanced Fujita Scale 1) tornado destroyed dozens of homes in Long Plain First Nation and damaged parts of a nearby Hutterite colony south of Portage la Prairie.

The same July night of that tornado, wicked gale-force winds peeled parts of a roof from a multi-storey apartment complex in Winnipeg.

Violent storm peels roof off Winnipeg apartment building

5 years ago
Duration 0:39
The roof of an apartment complex in Winnipeg was peeled off the building like a sardine can as a storm and violent winds forced their way through the city Wednesday night. 0:39

And that's just a smattering of some of the most recent violent storms.

In some respects, CBC Manitoba meteorolgoist John Sauder says that based on Environment Canada's historical data, it does look like Manitoba is indeed having more severe weather this summer than usual. 

Between 1981 and 2010, Winnipeg averaged about 18 storms a year. There have already been 21 storm days recorded in the city this year: that represents the most stormy summer days recorded up to Aug. 7 in Winnipeg since 1994, and it ties for 11th place between 2016 and 1953.

But does this mean southern Manitoba is in the middle of a tornado wave?

Environment Canada maintains that the strength of storms this summer are more or less on par with previous years.

It's possible that the tornadoes in the province this summer happened to touch down in more populated areas than usual and therefore more directly impacted the lives of more Manitobans.

"That could just be luck of the draw," Sauder says.

And while there's still time for more big storms this summer, which could in theory make it a record year for tornadoes and severe weather in the province, it's worth staying mindful of how our views of severe weather patterns are shaped by social media when it lights up with photos and videos of brilliant lightning bolts or destructive swirling winds.

"Perception of weather is really important. Everyone is walking around with high-tech cameras in their hands, so we're seeing more videos of extreme weather, scary looking clouds, even rotation under storm clouds more often," Sauder says.

With files from Laura Glowacki