June 7, 2019

A Rare Tornado Hit A Small Town In Northern Canada, One Of Only 4 Recorded So Far North

A tornado struck a tiny town in northern Canada’s vast wilderness on June 2. The tornado damaged homes and businesses in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, leaving residents shocked by the storm that just hit them. Tornadoes are rare at such a high latitude, and it’s even more rare that the tornado managed to hit such an isolated community.

Environment Canada confirmed that an EF-1 tornado touched down in Fort Smith on the afternoon of June 2, causing some structural damage and bringing down trees and power lines. Photos obtained and posted by CBC North show significant tree damage, crushed vehicles, and what appears to be a metal shed that was tossed and smashed in someone’s yard.

Residents in this part of the country have no reliable way to know a tornado is coming unless they see it for themselves. Environment Canada only has 31 weather radar sites set up across the country, centered on population centers near the southern border and in parts of the tornado-prone Prairie provinces. The nearest weather radar to Fort Smith is more than 350 miles away—that’s like using the radar at Washington’s Dulles Airport to see a storm over Providence, Rhode Island. This leaves folks up north to rely on satellite imagery or old-fashioned sky watching to stay ahead of an approaching thunderstorm.

Folks in Fort Smith probably never thought they'd see a tornado there. Tornadoes are extremely rare this far north. This is reportedly only the fourth tornado on record to strike Northwest Territories. It’s possible there are more tornadoes than we realize in interior and far-northern Canada, but communities are so few and far between that it takes a direct strike like we saw in Fort Smith for a tornado confirmation.

Tornado data maintained by Environment Canada shows more than 1,800 confirmed tornadoes across the country between 1980 and 2009, mostly focused around populated areas where people are actually around to witness tornadoes. Most tornadoes in Canada are relatively weak, though some tornadoes on the Prairies and in southern Ontario have been quite strong. The strongest tornado in Canadian history was an EF-5 that hit Elie, Manitoba, on June 22, 2007.

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I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2014 with a degree in political science and a minor in meteorology. I contribute to The Weather Network as a digital writer, and I've written for Forbes, the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang, Popular Science, Mental Floss, and Gawker's The Vane. My latest book, The Skies Above, is now available. My first book, The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, arrived in October 2015.