Lyndsay Morrison, staff writer
June 11, 2010 — The clean-up continues in Leamington, Ontario after a tornado ripped through the quiet community last weekend. In the short video to the left Deputy Mayor, Rob Schmidt gives details on the current status and recovery effort.
They have officially become the first and second tornadoes of Canada's 2010 active weather season.
At around 5pm on Saturday, an F1 tornado touched down in eastern Ontario -- not far from the Quebec border. Then, just after 3am on Sunday morning, an F2 tornado first tore through Harrow in southwestern Ontario, and then weakened into an F1 before battering the community of Leamington.
The damage is extensive across both towns, but there were no fatalities or injuries. Here's what happened:
F1 TORNADO IN EASTERN ONTARIO
A series of intense thunderstorms developed near the Quebec border in eastern Ontario late Saturday afternoon. They intensified rapidly -- leaving many communities without electricity. By Monday, Environment Canada had confirmed that an F1 tornado touched down around 5pm near the villages of Dalkeith and Ste-Anne-de-Prescott.
According to investigators at Environment Canada, there is extensive damage to barns, grain bins, corn silos, houses and mobile homes. There are also countless broken and uprooted trees.
The damage path was measured to be over 8 km long and ranged from 20 to 30 metres wide. Wind speeds were estimated at around 117 to 180 km/h.
F2 and F1 TORNADOES IN SOUTHWESTERN ONTARIO
In the late hours of Saturday night, a series of deadly storms rolled across parts of the midwest United States.Dozens of tornadoes were confirmed in Iowa, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan. Those same storms crossed the Canadian border early Sunday morning, prompting tornado warnings for Windsor, Leamington, Essex County and Chatham. All the ingredients were there for tornadoes to form.
The beginning of the tornado track produced F2 damage in Harrow (a town east of Leamington) in the early morning hours of Sunday. The cell toppled power poles and damaged structures as wind speeds ranged from 180 to 240 km/h. A two storey brick home was shifted from it's foundation, and a barn was completely destroyed from the intense gusts.
And then, while most people continued to sleep, the same large storm cell showing rotation on the radar roared over Leamington, a town south of Windsor along the shores of Lake Erie. There has since been confirmation that the storm produced an F1 tornado.
“It was a supercell storm that came through just after 3am,” said Mitch Merideth, a meteorologist with Environment Canada. “We found tree damage that indicates a tornado went through at least in the west part of the damaged area.”
Wind speeds clocked in at up to 180 km/h, leading to millions of dollars in damage. Metal was wrapped around poles, roofs were blown off houses and massive trees came crashing down on cars. Thousands of residents were left without electricity. A state of emergency was declared in Leamington within a few hours of the storm hitting.
Based on the extent of the damage, both emergency officials and meteorologists say it's surprising that no one was hurt.
“We were very fortunate Saturday night that we did not see injuries with the tornado in Essex county,” said The Weather Network meteorologist Chris Scott. “Just south of the border the storms were so intense that they produced stronger, deadly tornadoes.”
The clean-up is now underway, and Hydro One crews are almost finished restoring power to the community. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty got a firsthand view of the damage on Wednesday. He says some of the damage will be covered by the province.
TORNADO VS. DOWNBURST: WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?
Tornadoes are ranked on a scale of one to five on the Fujita Scale, with a one considered to be on the low end of the scale and causing moderate total damage.
Investigators in Leamington say there is tornado damage in the town, but they also say there may be a significant amount of damage caused by a downburst.
During severe thunderstorms, bursts of intense winds cause destruction -- it's these gusts that are known as “downbursts.” They can often be mistaken for tornadoes because of all the wreckage caused by them. They're often defined as a strong flow of air that travels from the surface to the ground.
Now comes the question regarding financial compensation. The F1 twister created millions of dollars of damage for the town of Leamington. The marina alone suffered between $1.5 to $2 million in wreckages.
Gary Goodyear, the Minister of State for the Federal Economic Development Agency for southern Ontario, took a tour of the tornado-ravaged town of Leamington Wednesday to survey the destruction, however a cheque has yet to be issued.
Goodyear said that the municipality can apply to the province for disaster funding and the federal government will work with the province. Nonetheless, applying for funding is a complex process, and it could be up to six months before the money gets to the public.
COULD WE SEE MORE TORNADOES IN ONTARIO?
Forecasters say tornadoes, like the two that tore across separate regions of Ontario over the weekend, are indications that the severe weather season has arrived in Canada.
“It is a good reminder that we are now getting into the meat of Canadian severe weather season,” explains Scott. “So over the next few months we will see more storms. The threat of a tornado in Canada is extremely low, but there is a risk that you have to pay attention to. And over June, July and August that's the core of our season and we have to be ready at any given time.”
Last year,Leamington was hit by a tornado on June 25. One of the worst tornadoes to ever touch down in southwestern Ontario was on June 17, 1946 in the city of Windsor.
With files from Jyll Malbeuf, Lisa Varano and Andrea Stockton.