Cheryl Santa Maria, staff writer
August 24, 2012 — One year ago today, a sultry summer day gave way to a night of severe thunderstorms, widespread power outages -- and three tornadoes.
One year ago today, the dynamics were right for an active weather night across the region.
After a sultry summer day that saw temperatures soar near 30°C in some places, a cold front swept through, sparking severe thunderstorms and three tornadoes.
“Right after 6 p.m., a few cells got going around Lake Huron,” Gina Ressler, a meteorologist at The Weather Network recalls.
For hours, multiple cells rolled off the shores of Lake Huron producing severe conditions and three tornadoes: an F-1 tornado that touched down in an area between Cambridge and Burlington that snapped tree branches; an F-1 in Nairn, northwest of London that destroyed a large farm shed; and an F-0 near Neustadt that scattered debris across the road.
Alexandra Pope, Social Media Coordinator for The Weather Network, was working as a news writer when the storms hit.
"Every major region in southern Ontario was under a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning at some point that night," she recalled.
"It was non-stop here in the newsroom. I spent most of my evening posting weather watches and warnings to The Weather Network's Facebook and Twitter pages."
At one point, much of the Huron shore was under a tornado warning. Emergency Management Ontario issued a “Red Alert” for areas at risk throughout the night, urging residents to take immediate shelter. Included in the warning was the town of Goderich, which was still recovering from the from deadly F3 twister the ripped through the community on August 21st. Residents were seen running in fear that another twister would touch down.
“[There was] not a soul in sight, people were rushing around trying to get to friend's homes, places that were safe,” said The Weather Network's Chris Mei, who had been live on location in Goderich since the tornado three days earlier.
While the ingredients for rotation were there, no tornadoes were reported in that area.
All in all, The Weather Network received over 250 Storm Line calls reporting everything from baseball-sized hail to flooding rains and damaging winds. At one point, more than 25,000 Hydro One customers across the province were waiting out the storms in the dark.
One severe cell caused chaos in downtown Toronto; dozens of flights were cancelled or delayed, Toronto Football Club spectators were evacuated from BMO field, and CNE organizers shut down the Midway and urged revellers to take shelter in the exhibition buildings.
According to Alex, social media was a-buzz as the storms rumbled through. "At one point the updates were coming in so quickly I didn't have time to read one before five more came through," she said, adding the severe weather event shed new light on the importance of social media. "A lot of people didn't have power that night, so they turned to their smartphones for updates. That's when we realized that Facebook and Twitter needed to be a part of our severe weather coverage."
Rob Davis, a meteorologist at The Weather Network, said, "August 24, 2011 was quite the severe weather day for Southern Ontarians. A cold front sliced across the region during the late afternoon & evening hours, forming a broken line of intense thunderstorms that plowed through much of Southern Ontario." He added that at one point, close to 10 million people were under a tornado watch.
"At one point, the TWN Stormline was receiving more than 20 callers per minute from viewers with reports of severe weather."