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Satellite imagery confirms 5 tornadoes hit Quebec during June 13 storm

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On June 13, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) issued tornado warnings for two regions of Quebec: Ville Marie (around 650 northwest of Montreal) and Val d'Or-Louvicourt (about 500 kilometres northwest of Montreal).

Although no tornadoes were reported on the day, the Northern Tornadoes Project (NTP) out of Western University in Ontario confirmed that five funnel clouds touched down and caused damage in the province.

NTP executive director David Sills explained that though no one reported tornadoes on the day, satellite imagery charting the storm confirmed that they touched down.

"About a week later, we started to get in some good imagery and we could see these narrow paths tree damage associated with tornadoes," said Sills.

Three of the tornadoes were rated EF2 (Enhanced Fujita scale), which is between 180 and 240 kilometres per hour gusts, and two were EF1, 120 to 170 KM/H gusts.

Teams need enough cloud-free areas to fully view the remote forest areas and the NTP may discover that even more tornadoes touched down with further analysis.

In addition to the tornado in Rigaud, west of Montreal, Quebec has now recorded six tornadoes in 2024.

Sills said identifying a tornado is not as simple as looking at an image.

"There's quite a bit of detective work we have to do to know whether it's actually a tornado," he said. "Sometimes it's very simple, sometimes it's very complicated."

With the June 13 tornadoes, the teams relied on radar and didn't have photos.

For example, Sills said that sometimes, a downburst—a strong downward and outward gushing wind system—looks like a tornado. The difference is in the damage. Tornado paths are long and narrow.

He said social media and enthusiastic storm chasers aid researchers significantly by submitting pictures and information.

More tornadoes

The tornadoes project began in 2017 because researchers knew tornadoes were touching down in remote regions but weren't getting reported.

"Right off the bat we found the largest tornado outbreak in Quebec history in 2017, so we knew we were on the right path," said Sills.

By 2019, the project was Canada-wide and able to give the country a better idea of how many tornadoes touch down.

"It's a better reflection of the tornado climatology of Canada," said Sills. "That was our intention, to uncover the true climatology of Canada."

Sills said that before the project, about 60 tornadoes were reported in Canada, and now that number is closer to 100.

With more data, the NTP hopes to be able to detect tornadoes using meteorological trends and signals. 

Western University's Northern Hail Project (NHP) is the NTP's sister project and started in 2022 with the same goal of improving knowledge about damaging hail storms across Canada.

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