Nova Scotia·WEATHER

Hot, humid and dangerous: A brief history of tornadoes in the Maritimes

CBC meteorologist Ryan Snoddon looks back at the tornadoes that have touched down in the region.

CBC meteorologist Ryan Snoddon looks back at the tornadoes that have touched down in the region

Tornadoes in the Maritimes

2 months ago
Duration 3:22
They're not common. But they do happen. It's happened 50 times in 142 years, to be exact.

During a hot and humid summer like this one, we often see thunderstorms developing. And  — while it's not a common occurrence — it's important to remember that thunderstorms can produce tornadoes, even here in the Maritimes. 

The bulk of tornadoes that have touched down in the Maritimes have done so in New Brunswick where temperatures are warmer and thunderstorms are sometimes powerful enough to produce a tornado.

In fact, there are 35 tornadoes on record as having touched down in New Brunswick.

The bulk of these were across central regions of the province and were EF0 or EF1 strength, with winds of up to 175 kilometres per hour. 

Tornadoes in Canada are rated according to the enhanced Fujita (EF) scale. It ranges from EF0 to EF5. The more damage from the storm, the higher the rating.

This map shows where tornadoes have hit Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. (Ryan Snoddon/CBC)

Each rating includes an estimation of wind speeds during the tornado. For example, an EF2 tornado has estimated wind speeds between 180 and 220 kilometres per hour. For an EF5 tornado, wind speeds are estimated at 315 km/h or higher.

The EF scale, used by Environment Canada since 2013, is an improved version of the Fujita scale, developed in the 1970s by T. Theodore Fujita, a meteorologist with the University of Chicago.

In New Brunswick, three separate EF2 tornadoes touched down in the 1980s and 1990s, including one just outside of Fredericton in 1995.

A road sign was driven into the side of a building during an EF1 tornado which struck the Edmundston area in 2004. (CBC )

There is even an EF3 on record. That particular tornado touched down in Bouctouche back in August of 1879. That storm killed seven people and injured 10, destroying 42 houses, 52 barns and the local school.

Nova Scotia has nine tornado touchdowns on record. The EF1 tornado that touched down in Stewiacke on June 30, 2021, was the first confirmed tornado in the province in two decades. It was on the ground for more than 600 meters, destroying a barn.

A few weeks later, another EF0 tornado was spotted in Antrim. There have also been touchdowns in Lantz back in 1997 and in Pugwash in 1999 — both of which were EF0 storms.

Image of the EF0 tornado which touched down in the Lantz area in 1997. (Allen Sutherland)

Perhaps the most noteworthy tornado on the list occurred on Jan. 30, 1954. In the warm sector of a winter storm tracking up the Atlantic coastline, a tornado producing thunderstorm struck the coast near White Point Beach, just south of Liverpool.

The tornado was on the ground for just over a kilometre, snapping trees, damaging cabins and destroying a barn. The wreckage was blown for a kilometre and beams were found driven more than a foot into the earth.

Former weatherman Rube Hornstein documented the extremely rare winter storm for the Royal Meteorological Society and wrote "the statistical data indicate that the tornado which stuck White Point Beach at 11:40 p.m. AST on Jan. 30 must be classed as a weather freak."

Television weatherman Rube Hornstein delivers a forecast from Saint Mary's University in 1958. (Saint Mary's University)

Even P.E.I. has six tornadoes on record, the most recent of which was in August 2007 in Crapaud.

The most notable appears to be an EF1 tornado, which brought damage to an 18 kilometre stretch just west of Charlottetown in 1974. The storm flattened corn fields and lifted a mobile home off its blocks.

So while tornadoes are rare here in the Maritimes, it's important to remember that they do occur. Stay tuned to the forecasts and remember when the thunder roars, head indoors.

A thank you to David Sills and the team at the Northern Tornadoes Project and ECCC's Climate Atlantic for their assistance in gathering the data. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan Snoddon

Meteorologist

Ryan Snoddon is CBC's meteorologist in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

With a file from Christy Climenhaga

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