Weather played a significant role this long weekend in Alberta, with four confirmed tornadoes or probable tornadoes touching down in the province over four consecutive days.
It all began late Thursday afternoon. Social media was flooded with ominous pictures and video of a massive cloud approaching the town of Ponoka. Environment Canada confirmed Friday that an EF0 tornado touched down in the area Thursday night.
“A preliminary assessment of the damage caused by this storm has led the meteorologists to conclude that an Enhanced Fujita Scale Zero (EF0) tornado with peak winds between 90 and 130 kilometres per hour occurred near Ponoka, Alberta,” said a statement from the national weather agency.
The Ponoka Stampede was on at the time, increasing the population of the town of 7,000 significantly. No injuries were reported.
On Friday, as people were preparing for Canada Day fireworks, social media lit up once again with images from the town of Didsbury.
Area resident Mike Caughy told Global News that as soon as he saw the green in the sky he knew they were in trouble. Green clouds are often thought to be a sign of an approaching tornado. Research indicates that the hue is usually more indicative of a very deep cloud which has the potential to produce large-sized hail as a part of a very active cell.
Watch below: Global’s coverage of the tornado activity near Ponoka Thursday.
In the Environment Canada summary Saturday, which confirmed a probable tornado occurrence in the Didsbury area around 9:26 p.m. July 1, they also confirmed hail east of the town was measuring 45 mm in size.
Saturday brought more unsettled weather across the prairies along with high humidity. Much of the province was placed under a severe thunderstorm watch early in the day, and some funnel cloud advisories were put in place in the central regions as conditions were favourable for the development of weak funnel clouds.
Before long those severe thunderstorm watches were being upgraded to warnings and thunderstorm warnings were being replaced by tornado warnings once again. This time the affected area was south of Calgary.
In a release Sunday, Environment Canada confirmed they had enough evidence to confirm a probable tornado in the Longview area.
Storm spotters reported a tornado touched down at around 5:18 p.m. Environment Canada is still looking for more pictures and evidence to verify the amount of damage that occurred.
Watch below: Alberta has been hit by some wild weather over the past few days. Severe storms have been popping up in virtually every corner of the province and have ranged from heavy rain to tornado warnings. With every warning comes a rush of adrenaline for storm chasers. But as Sarah Kraus reports, doing so is incredibly dangerous.
Sunday turned out to be another active day for weather watchers. Severe thunderstorm watches and warnings blanketed the central and southern regions as a similar weather pattern evolved with showers and thunderstorms developing off of the Foothills and tracking east.
Watch below: A timelapse between about 11 p.m. and just before midnight Sunday shows the stormy skies over Calgary looking south toward Okotoks.
Environment Canada confirmed with Global News Sunday that there was enough evidence to confirm a tornado touched down around the Hardisty area south of Edmonton at around 4:20 p.m. From damage reports and preliminary evidence it appears this was also an EF0.
Sunday evening Environment Canada issued more tornado warnings southwest of Calgary for towns like Mossleigh and Bassano as they were tracking strong cells moving in that were showing some rotation on their radar. As of 11:50 p.m. there had been no confirmation of any tornado activity in that area.
READ MORE: Tornado touches down near Killam
Watch below: A massive storm cell blew through the Killam/ Hardisty region Sunday afternoon.
When the sky is swirling, some are tempted to chase the storms. It’s something Environment Canada warns against.
“Nature is an incredible thing to observe, but it’s a very dangerous situation as well,” meteorologist Dan Kulak said. “You can easily find yourself in a situation where a storm is making an unexpected turn and you have no shelter.”
It’s not just tornadoes people need to worry about. Nevin DeMilliano with the Prairie Storm Chasers group said the storm surrounding the core can be just as dangerous.
“Tornadoes are one thing but they affect such a small area that hail and lightning, those are the two bigger things for me. Even with a lot of rain on the highway, you can hydroplane easily… I’ve seen trucks get written off that were storm chasing for the first time.”
Kulak said lightning is a concern because of its unpredictability.
“More people are killed in Canada by lightning, on average, per year, than rain, hail, tornadoes, windstorms and hurricanes combined. Lightning is the most severe weather threat to either hurt you or possibly kill you.”
READ MORE: What to do when severe summer weather hits
Why have there been so many tornadoes?
According to Environment Canada statistics, the prairies will see typically about 43 tornadoes per year, with approximately 15 of them occurring in Alberta.
Southern Alberta is considered to be in a “Tornado Alley” according to the number of tornadoes that typically occur along the southern regions of the prairies.
High season for tornadoes in Alberta is July, but four tornadoes in four days is unusual.
There has been a stagnant weather pattern over Alberta for a few days, coupled with high humidity which has been producing unstable conditions.
That pattern is expected to start to shift in the next few days, although at this point the forecast for the early part of the week includes a risk of showers and thunderstorms for many of the same areas that have recently been affected.
The severity of these recent tornadoes is not unusual.
The majority of Canadian tornadoes, 45 per cent, register as EF0s. Twenty-nine per cent are EF1s, four per cent are EF3s and one per cent are strong enough to be classified as an EF4.
|EF-scale||Wind speed (km/h)||Damage|
|EF-5||315 +||Massive devastation|
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With files from Sarah Kraus, Global News.