NEWS

Why Ontario is due for a major tornado, more flash floods & more snow

05/05/2015 05:45 EDT | Updated 05/05/2016 05:59 EDT
Those under 30 years old will have no idea that fatal tornadoes are not uncommon in Ontario. Geoff Coulson, Environment Canada's Warning Preparedness Meteorologist, knows that the province is due for "the big one," noting the F4 tornado is well overdue.

About 15 years overdue.

"On May 31, 1985, there were 13 tornadoes across southwest and south-central Ontario, two of those events were rated as F4 events," said Coulson, who led a weather preparedness seminar for Hamilton emergency services, city workers and school board delegates. "We have not seen the like in terms of an event that intense since that time, and we feel that we are, in fact, overdue for a tornado of that intensity in Ontario."

We're also due for more flash flooding, more lightning, and yes, more snow as a result of climate change. Those won't come in May, which is as far as Coulson would give a forecast for. He expects a quiet month for Hamilton in May, with the possibility of storms towards the end of the month.

"As we get further into the month of May, more episodes of heat and humidity, those are the ingredients a thunderstorm needs to form," Coulson said, calling it an "opportunity" for families to have the "preparedness" conversation.

That conversation includes what does your house need to survive for 72 hours without help, from diapers to dog food, and batteries to a printed contact list from a soon-to-be drained cell phone.

There were plenty of tips to be pulled from the two-hour workshop aimed at informing those that make the call to close a road or cancel a playoff soccer game.

"We're using this group as a way to spread the word from here," Coulson said. "We're having key decision-makers in the crowd… and they'll pass the word along."

Of the tips, many were common sense. Here are a few:

On lightning

- Get inside to shelter. If none can be found, use a vehicle, but only if it has a metal roof. If none can still be found, look again for more shelter because they no longer teach the lightning crouch. If you're camping, go to the low-lying area and crouch as a last resort.

- Do not resume a child's sports game, or any sport for that matter, until 30 minutes after the last thunder is heard.

On extreme winds

- The underpass is not a safe place to stop when driving on the highway in high winds. Coulson says it funnels wind — and flying debris — leaving your stopped car in the most susceptible position. Keep moving, and get off the highway to get away from the storm.

- Every year there are 50 to 60 "downburst" wind events in the province, and roughly 12 tornados.

- EF-4 tornadoes (as they are now called, opposed to F4) happen once every 15 years.

- The last EF-4 in Ontario was nearly 30 years ago in 1985. It killed 11 people.

- For schools, heavy winds can take out large flat-roofed areas quickly, like this video of a school gymnasium below. If you can't get to lower floors, go to the centre of a building structure, Coulson says. "The more walls the better."

On the 'smartphone force field'

- Most weather events require you to get low, close to the core of buildings and generally, away from windows. Coulson says people who want that viral video get close to windows to record footage, exactly the place where debris from a storm will cause the most damage. The message? Stay inside and stay away from windows.

- Coulson said it goes without saying that you should be inside if you can when big weather hits. He showed this video to the crowd of roughly 50 people. It makes clear how some people ignore that common sense rule.

On climate change

- Climate change will bring about more "Burlington type" overland flooding. In last year's flood in that city, nearly two months of rain — 190mm — fell in an afternoon causing flooding. Most of the damage was uninsurable as overland flooding is not covered in Canadian insurance.

- To be prepared, Coulson suggests residents audit what they have in the basement now for family keepsakes, important documents, photos and electronics and move them to higher floors.

- Most of global warming for this area is felt in rising winter temperatures. It means the Great Lakes will be warmer which means more Lake Effect snow, which typically only hits Hamilton in the early stages of winter before the lakes freeze over.

MORE:cbcNews