UTSC research helps predict tornado activity, and reveals that Canada has more tornados than we thought

Tornado over a field

What if tornado activity could be forecast months—or even seasons—in advance? Thanks to a new model developed at UTSC, this could soon be possible.

“We want to predict ahead to the following year or even years whether tornado activity will be above or below average in a given area so we can plan accordingly,” says Vincent Cheng, a postdoctoral fellow in UTSC’s Ecological Modeling Lab.

The model was developed by Cheng, Professor George Arhonditsis and Professor Bill Gough in UTSC’s Climate Lab, along with colleagues at Environment Canada. It uses large-scale atmospheric variables like those used by weather forecasters.

The aim is to reproduce a historical record of the atmosphere over time, by looking at the instability of the atmosphere and at the vertical wind- shear—the change in wind speed and wind direction at different heights.

As well as its role in forecasting, the model would allow for fuller reporting of tornado activity. Many tornados occur in remote areas, where people aren’t around to observe and report them. “From observations there are only about 60 reported tornadoes in Canada per year,” says Cheng, “but the number is more
like 150.”