Ottawas tornado caught forecasters off guard, but WHY? – The Weather Network

Ottawa\s tornado caught forecasters off guard, but WHY? - The Weather Network
Ottawas tornado caught forecasters off guard, but WHY?
Environment Canada is reviewing its public alerts system after residents of a suburban Ottawa neighbourhood hit by a tornado Sunday were never warned that one was on the way.

The tornado, preliminarily classified as an EF1 with winds up to 178 kilometres an hour, reportedly injured one person slightly but it tore off roofs, levelled fences and uprooted trees. While Environment Canada issued tornado warnings for several nearby areas in western Quebec and eastern Ontario Sunday night, there was never a warning issued for any part of Ottawa.

While Environment Canada decides when to send a tornado warning, a company called Pelmorex operates the National Alert Aggregation and Dissemination System, which sends out public safety messages. The company sent a brief message Sunday saying that users must have up-to-date phones and the latest operating systems, and must be connected to an LTE network.

A spokeswoman for the department said the weather leading up to the tornado didn’t suggest one could develop — it was warm but not hot and not that windy and only some thunderstorms were considered possible. It wasn’t until someone near the airport in Gatineau, Que., spotted a funnel cloud that the tornado risk became known.

A final point of confusion: The alert covered only a list of places that did not include Ottawa: Gatineau, Papineauville, Chénéville and Lachute in Quebec, as well as the United Counties of Prescott and Russell in Ontario. However many people in Ottawa still received it.

By the time the warning was communicated over the Alert Ready warning system, the tornado had already touched down across the river in Orleans, a suburb in east Ottawa. Numerous residents posted to Twitter and Facebook that they either never got the alert message at all, or that by the time they got it, the storm was already over and it wasn’t for their area.

In one video of the tornado posted to Twitter, the cellphone alert can be heard going off as the tornado is passing.

“We did not have a watch out and the warning did not go out until the storm had already begun,” said meteorologist Peter Kimbell of Environment Canada. (A watch is a statement that severe weather is possible. It’s less serious than a warning.)

It was a little bit late and a little bit too far east, but you know what, it is better than what we had before, said Marc Messier, an Orleans resident who’s also an inspector with the Ottawa Fire Service. It might be better if we had it on time.

Tornado near Ottawa snaps trees, damages buildings

Messier’s son called him shortly before 6 p.m. Sunday to say a tornado had just gone down his street. Messier was driving home and stopped rather than drive into the storm. He shot video of the tornado from the overpass where he stopped, and says he didn’t get the alert warning until after he stopped filming. And the alert was for Prescott-Russell, a county east and south of the city.

A group helps clear debris from fallen trees blocking a road in Orleans near Ottawa (Justin Tang- CP)

Since April 2018, wireless networks have been required to carry emergency-alert messages to warn people of things like severe weather or missing children. The Amber Alerts for missing children have been criticized for waking people up in the middle of the night and some Ottawa residents said on Twitter they were perplexed that they get notifications for missing children many hundreds of kilometres away but not for a tornado that was right beside them.

Several homes sustained damage to their roofs, as the winds ripped the shingles and underlay off, exposing bare the plywood underneath. Trees snapped in the winds, crashing down on top of vehicles and homes in the area.

Tim Warmington, a spokesman for Public Safety Canada, which is the department responsible for the Alert Ready system, said Monday Canadians won’t receive alerts if their phones are turned off, are in silent or airplane mode, are outside the area affected, aren’t compatible with or connected to LTE networks, or are connected to cell towers that aren’t in the coverage area.

Environment Canada spokeswoman Samantha Bayard said her department will be reviewing this event with other public alerting partners to evaluate the alerting performance.

"There's probably 20 to 25 streets that sustained quite a bit of tree damage, some roof damage as well," said Matthew Luloff, city councillor for Orléans Ward.

EF-1 tornado confirmed in Orleans, Ont., frightening footage

Ottawa-area residents are more aware of tornado risks after six tornadoes touched down in the area last September. They destroyed dozens of homes in the west end of the city and in Gatineau, and took out one of the city’s main power stations.

Chainsaws and wood chippers are revving in Orléans, after a tornado twisted a path of destruction through neighbourhoods near Jeanne D'Arc Boulevard and Tenth Line Road.

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Several homes sustained damage to their roofs, as the winds ripped the shingles and underlay off, exposing bare the plywood underneath. Trees snapped in the winds, crashing down on top of vehicles and homes in the area.

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Questions are again being raised about the efficacy of the Alert Ready System after some people in Ottawa didn't receive Sunday's emergency tornado warning on their mobile devices.

Some residents in Orléans, where the tornado caused damage, said they got an emergency message on their phones, while others said they did not.

“There’s probably 20 to 25 streets that sustained quite a bit of tree damage, some roof damage as well,” said Matthew Luloff, city councillor for Orléans Ward.

Tornadoes hit Ottawa damaging homes and trees

Lisa Ouimet, who lives on Bilberry Drive in Orléans, knew a tornado was passing overhead from the way her bolted-down gazebo was moving and swelling.

"About 15 minutes later, we went outside because the neighbours had come to the door to make sure that everybody was OK. We all gathered outside to discuss what had just happened, and that's when we got a notification.

Residents and emergency crews continue their cleanup Monday, after Environment Canada confirmed a tornado touched down in the suburb of Orleans shortly after 6 p.m. The twister uprooted trees, tore roofs apart, damaged cars and briefly closed streets.

"My next-door neighbour got one on his phone but it was for Gatineau, Que. I never received anything on my phone, my son didn't receive anything. The neighbours across the street, nothing," she said.

This is the latest in a series of severe weather events to hit the area. Ottawa and Gatineau were hit by serious tornadoes in September and several communities east of Ottawa have also been in a state of emergency due to spring flooding.

"It happened so fast that we didn't even have time to run to the basement. And then once it was all over, I sat down and … I just started crying because it could have been so much worse than what happened," Ouimet added.

"I'm not sure how the system works, but something needs to be done. It needs to be fixed."

The force of nature is, like, amazing. Its, like, heartbreaking, said Luc Poupart of Orleans, Ont. who recorded the tornados destruction until he had to seek refuge, yelling Get in, get in, on the video.

Tornado strikes Canada capital region, no injuries

He found out about the tornado when his wife, who was in B.C. at the time, phoned him. A neighbour had called her to tell her about the wind damage on their property, and then she called her husband.

"The atmosphere that evening was not expected to support the development of damaging thunderstorms and the storms that did occur developed very rapidly," said spokesperson Samantha Bayard. 

"Tornadoes require really specific conditions, and I think this one was a very unique one. We'll have to be spending some time looking into the meteorology of the event in the days to come," Kimball said, adding that Environment Canada teams in Montreal and London, Ont., are analyzing the storm.

A Surprise Tornado Tore Through Ottawa Yesterday & The Damage Was Extensive (VIDEOS)

According to Environment Canada, the tornado was first spotted in Orléans, about 10 kilometres southeast of the Gatineau airport, at 5:54 p.m. ET. It moved east along the Ottawa River toward Cumberland, with damage spotted as far as Clarence Creek, Ont.

"I would say there are probably 20 to 25 streets that are heavily affected … it's mostly concentrated in the Villages area of my ward, from Champlain Street to the east, all the way to just past Trim Road," he told Ottawa Morning.

While the tornado was already moving through the area, Environment Canada issued a tornado warning in Gatineau, Que., Papineau, Que., and the United Counties of Prescott-Russell, Ont., at about 6 p.m. An alert was also issued in Lachute, Que., later Sunday evening.

Tornado warnings in effect for eastern Ontario and western Quebec and

Bayard said the alerts will bleed across regions if a recipient is close to the area where an alert is issued.  People close to, but not in, the warning areas of Gatineau and Prescott might have received alerts, she said.  

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) indicated that the lack of a tornado warning in Ottawa may be why some people in the capital didn't receive an alert.

Tornadoes spotted in Ottawa area prompts warning

"We don't issue the alerts. If Environment Canada failed to do that, it's something that maybe we have to check with them," added Patricia Valladao, another CRTC spokesperson.

The Alert Ready System was launched in April 2018 to warn Canadians about emergencies such as natural disasters, terrorist threats and Amber Alerts.

It takes alerts issued by organizations such as Environment Canada and police, and distributes them to wireless devices in the areas covered by the alerts.

The company Pelmorex, which operates the technical backbone of the Alert Ready System, wrote in an emailed statement Monday it's received reports that some people in the areas where tornado warnings were issued — Gatineau, Papineau, Lachute, and the United Counties of Prescott-Russell, Ont. — didn't receive the alert.

"We, along with our Alert Ready partners, are in the process of reviewing and validating these identified reports," the statement reads.

The company also said that not all mobile devices are guaranteed to receive alerts. In order for the alerts to work, a device must:

About 98.5 per cent of Canadians had access to LTE networks in 2016, according to the CRTC's 2018 communications monitoring report.

It's not the first time people in Ottawa have complained about spotty alert system service. Less than a year ago, when  two tornadoes touched down in Ottawa, some people complained they didn't receive the emergency alert.

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