SaskAlert glitch results in 'blockage' of extreme weather notices

Environment Canada says many of the funnel clouds seen on Sunday were only capable of producing landspout tornadoes, which are not capable of doing much damage.

Environment Canada says it's working to fix the problem

Unless it's part of a severe thunderstorm cell, funnel clouds are likely only able to form landspout tornadoes. (Blaine Davis/Facebook)
The SaskAlerts app wasn't showing any problems around the province Monday at 6:17 a.m. CST. (SaskAlerts/CBC)

The government is responding to the fact that SaskAlert, an emergency public alerting program that provides critical information on emergencies, didn't send out public alerts about the torrential rains and funnel clouds on Sunday and early Monday. 

Duane McKay, who heads the province's emergency management branch, said updates on Environment Canada's side of the SaskAlert system — which includes a website and a smartphone app — may have caused problems preventing notices from being pushed to the national alert system.

A funnel cloud spotted taking shape in Saskatoon on July 10. (Courtesy Rosemary Anweiler)

"It was a bit of a surprise to us that it didn't work as necessary, but it looks like it was an update on the Environment Canada side that caused the blockage," McKay said.

"That also affected feeds into the newsrooms which should have got the alerts as well, they were not making in through the national system."

There was widespread flooding in Estevan, Lloydminster, Yorkton, Humboldt and other communities as heavy rain fell at the start of the week.

According to the provincial government, SaskAlert is a "comprehensive emergency public alerting program that provides critical information on emergencies as they have the potential to occur or are occurring so you can take action to protect yourself, your family and your property." 

Environment Canada said they are aware of the glitch and are working to fix it to avoid any more alerts from being missed. 

Landspout tornadoes less dangerous than other kinds

Meanwhile, the federal weather agency also says many of the funnel clouds seen on Sunday in the Saskatoon area were only capable of producing landspout tornadoes, which are not capable of doing much damage. 

Technically the clouds could have formed tornadoes but they would be in the form of landspout tornadoes, according to Natalie Hasell, warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada. 

The difference is that landspout tornadoes are far less dangerous.
Duane McKay with the province's emergency management said an Environment Canada update clogged weather alerts from being sent out on Sunday and overnight Monday morning. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

"You know, it's something spinning in the air, but it's not going to cause significant damage," said Hasell.

"If it happened right over a shed, it might take off a few shingles... compared to the severe thunderstorm true tornado situation they're very different."

Since there were no severe thunderstorms in the area there was not a chance of a "true tornado" forming, according to Hasell.

"It's possible that the advisory might have been ended prematurely," said Hasell. 

"Occasionally that happens. It's a little embarrassing for us, perhaps, if we end an advisory and someone still sees a funnel cloud after that."

However, the funnel cloud advisory had been active for two hours prior to being lifted.

Part of why Environment Canada does not put out an advisory for landspout tornadoes, explained Hasell, is that they want the public to treat severe thunderstorms and major cells with the caution they warrant.

"If you saw [a landspout tornado] when there was a tornado warning, you might not react the next time there's a tornado warning when we're actually dealing with a severe thunderstorm," said Hasell.


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