Environment Canada to review Barrie tornado alert notifications after current season

WATCH ABOVE: As crews sift through the remnants from an EF-2 tornado that caused heavy damage in Barrie's south end, some say it took too long for officials to issue a warning. Shallima Maharaj reports.

Environment Canada staff say they will be conducting an internal review of the department’s actions and notifications in response to an EF-2 tornado that caused major damage in Barrie and Innisfil amid several complaints a warning came after the twister already moved through the area.

“ regularly conducts internal reviews of major weather events, including the meteorology and warning process, to ensure that we track lessons learned. We will complete the post-tornado event review at the end of the summer severe weather season,” a statement to Global News said, noting meteorologists are in the height of the peak period for tornadoes.

“ECCC takes its responsibility to produce high quality and reliable weather forecasts and timely severe weather warnings for Canadians very seriously. A tornado can be tens to hundreds of metres wide and have a lifespan of minutes or hours.”

However, as of Wednesday, it wasn’t clear if the results of the review will be released publicly.

READ MORE: Questions raised about effectiveness of Environment Canada’s warning system

It was on Thursday afternoon when the powerful tornado, with estimated wind speeds of up to 210 km/h, passed through the southern end of Barrie. Most of the damage was concentrated to the neighbourhood near Prince William Way and Mapleview Drive East. However, there were damages reported west of the area along Mapleview Drive East, as well as in Innisfil, a path of damage that was at least five kilometres long.

Global News previously reported on how residents in and around Barrie took to social media and questioned the timeliness of a tornado warning. Since the initial story, Global News received additional complaints from people in the area who echoed the observations.

Travis Farncombe, a storm chaser who was in the region at the time, said he live-streamed the incoming storm system for several minutes before a tornado warning was issued for Barrie.

“At the time I didn’t think a one had been issued, though wasn’t sure it had not. It’s my policy to defer to watches/warnings, not to ‘issue my own.’ BUT man it’s tough when you think + city – warning,” he tweeted Friday morning.

Will Dunn tweeted he got the alert on his phone at 2:39 p.m., which was roughly when the tornado was in the area.

“Is there a delay in getting warnings issued or was @ECCCWeatherON slow in responding? People could have been killed here,” he questioned.

“We got the alert on the phone just after it hit. It’s possible that the warning came beforehand and there is a slight delay. But yeah overall it was unfortunately too late,” Mario Trunz wrote in response to Dunn’s tweet.

Global News chief meteorologist Anthony Farnell said the first tornado signature with a hook on reflectivity and velocity in a tight rotation appeared on radar at around 2:22 p.m., just more than 15 minutes before the warning was issued.

“This may not seem like much, but for a tornado warning to be issued over 15 minutes later than it should be, it’s a big deal and can be life and death,” he said.

While Farnell said he couldn’t comment on the process of issuing an alert, he noted it appeared the alerts were also issued as the storm system moved east with other tornadoes being reported.

In King City where a new radar system came online in late June, it is now providing detailed scans of central Ontario every six minutes instead of every 10 minutes under the old system. Farnell said that new technology is an important tool for Environment Canada and weather watchers.

“This should (and did for many meteorologists) give vital information on the storm’s intensity and track. It is the reason I feel confident to say a warning should have been issued much earlier,” he said.

When it comes to issuing tornado warnings in general, Farnell said Canada is lagging in comparison to the United States in terms of wider regions being put under alert versus a specific area in a potential tornado’s path.

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“This would limit the of people who get put under a tornado warning when the storm is nowhere near them. In the case of the GTA, a million people could be under a warning for a storm only impacting a small fraction of that population,” he added.

On Friday, Global News sought comment from Environment Canada after initial questions arose about the alerts. Warning preparedness meteorologist and spokesperson Steven Flisfeder said a severe thunderstorm watch was issued Thursday morning for the region and it stated there was a possibility of a tornado. That watch, he said, was later upgraded to a severe thunderstorm warning. At 2:38 p.m., Flisfeder said a tornado warning was declared.

“It’s a situation where there wasn’t as much lead time as we would like obviously. We definitely always strive to have the warning out as soon as possible and it’s just an unfortunate situation some people didn’t have that lead time in this case,” he said.

Flisfeder said the warning was broadcast immediately on phones, television feeds and on local radio stations after it was declared, adding the system appeared to work as it was designed to do.

Read more:
City of Barrie staff say building code followed amid questions about some tornado-damaged homes

He said multiple assessments are done throughout the day of environmental conditions at the time. As storm systems develop, Flisfeder said multiple meteorologists review radar data such as indications of rotation, as well as reviewing social media reports with the hashtag #ONstorm.

“It’s really difficult to make this final decision of whether or not to send a tornado warning. It’s one of the most severe warnings we’re able to send from Environment Canada for weather, so it’s a decision we don’t take lightly,” he said.

“ are not easy to predict where and when they will occur. It’s very dynamic and it can happen in an instant, so that’s why we try to stay alert as possible as these storms are ongoing.”

With respect to the situation on Thursday, Barrie–Innisfil MP John Brassard said it would be reasonable for a review to take place.

Read more:
Cleanup continues following last week’s tornado in Barrie, Ont.

“I can’t speak to the mechanisms and what happens to engage the warning system, but I’ll tell you the storm came up very, very quickly, and I’m hearing from many residents that the alert system happened when the storm was either on top of them or just after it passed,” he told Global News.

“Any time a situation occurs, I mean, there’s always a debriefing that happens afterwards and I would support any call to review how the system functioned and the activation process.”

With the varying alerts and warnings that are issued for a variety of situations, Brassard said people have a tendency to ignore messages after time. He said earlier watches and warnings might have been ignored, suggesting maybe better differentiating and highlighting different risks.

Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman said he was also among those who got the alert after the tornado passed. He said he thinks any potential delays should be reviewed. However, he echoed other comments that said the storm came on very suddenly

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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