With a total of 86 tornadoes recorded, 2023 was a quieter year across Canada after a record 2022, according to Western University’s Northern Tornado Project, but 2023 was not without notable tornadoes.
Based at Western University in London, Ontario, the The Northern Tornados Project (NPT) recorded a total of 86 tornadoes, including one tornado generated by wildfires in British Columbia, during 2023.
The 2023 figure pales in comparison to the record number of tornadoes in 2022, which saw a total of 129 tornadoes recorded nationwide.
According to NPT Executive Director David Sills, it wasn’t just the number of tornadoes that made it a “relatively quiet tornado year” across the country, but also the lack of major tornadoes.
“In 2023, there were only five tornadoes with damage rated EF2 or higher across Canada, and that is the lowest level since the NTP began its investigations in 2017, and far fewer than the more than 30 that were recorded in 2021 and 2022,” Sills said.
Because NTP researchers constantly analyze and update severe weather data from across the country, it is possible that more tornadoes and flurries will be added to the total number of storms over time. For example, in 2022, preliminary data revealed 117 tornadoes in Canada, but further investigation brought the number to 129 tornadoes after additional investigation.
Extensive tree damage is seen in south Windsor, Ontario. area after a tornado on August 24, 2023. (Source: Northern Tornado Project)
Notable tornado events
Even though there will be “fewer and milder” tornadoes in 2023, last year was notable due to a tornado near Didsbury, Alta. July 1, 2023 which measured an EF4 on the enhanced Fujita scale, marking only the second EF4 tornado since the TNP began investigating in 2017.
Documentation also stands out in 2023 of a rare tornado generated by a fire in British Columbia which occurred during an intense wildfire season in August.
According to the TNP, of the 86 tornadoes verified in 2023, 49 percent would likely not have been documented without TNP investigations.
This screenshot from a video shared by the BC Wildfire Service shows a ‘fire whirl’ or ‘fire tornado’ on August 22, 2023.
Which provinces were the most affected?
The 2023 season began in May and ended in October, with the province of Ontario recording the highest number of storms with 30 events occurring over land and nine additional tornadoes, also known as waterspouts, occurring over bodies of water.
The TNP said that these data are also consistent with the results from 2020 to 2022.
Alberta is the second most active province, with 19 tornadoes recorded in 2023, 10 of which occurred during an outbreak on June 14, 2023.
Manitoba also makes the list due to its high number of explosions. In 2023, all flurries were rated EF0 to EF1, with 18 and 27 flurries reported in southern Manitoba and southern Ontario, respectively.
Canada Day tornado photographed near Didsbury, Alta., Canada, by Matt Melnyk, July 1, 2023
The role of satellites in NPT investigations
In total, 394 investigations were completed in 2023 that included the review of satellite images.
By early 2024, an annual search of the most tornado-prone forested areas in Canada had been completed, covering an area of 2.91 million square kilometers.
This search identified 15 additional tornadoes that would not have otherwise been recorded. Since the TNP began its investigation in 2017, the total number of tornadoes verified through the use of satellite images has increased to 186.
“Satellite-based investigations are key to finding wind damage in remote areas like Canada’s boreal forest, and as new satellites provide increasing image resolution, satellite studies will become increasingly important, even in areas more populated,” Sills said.
The Northern Tornados Project is a partnership between Western University of London and ImpactWX that seeks to better understand tornado occurrence in Canada, mitigate damage to people and property, and the future impacts of climate change.
A high-resolution satellite image shows soil washing away crops after a tornado near Didsbury, Alta. on July 1, 2023. The red line indicates the path visible from the satellite images, while the ‘s’ and ‘e’ mark the start and end points of the path found by the ground reconnaissance/drone team. (Source: Western University)