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Send us your severe weather pics, Environment Canada says


Environment Canada recommends including a ruler or other scale item in any pictures of severe weather effects you send. Photo courtesy: Darren McLarty
Environment Canada recommends including a ruler or other scale item in any pictures of severe weather effects you send. Photo courtesy: Darren McLarty

Daniel Martins, staff writer

July 6, 2012 — Environment Canada has a few tips on how to shoot severe weather.

Environment Canada warning preparedness meteorologist Geoff Coulson
Environment Canada warning preparedness meteorologist Geoff Coulson

Any time you shoot severe weather pictures and video in your area, you can actually help Environment Canada get a clearer picture of what happened and whether their predictions were on the money.

"[It] helps to flesh out the severity of the event, and get a sense of things like hail size, or the type of damage that may have occurred in a given event," says Geoff Coulson, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada.

The agency issues severe weather watches and warnings on a regular basis, but on-the-ground corroboration is essential.

Environment Canada uses trained CANWARN spotters to help them observe the weather, but anyone with a camera can help, Coulson says.

"By getting photographic evidence, and video evidence, and even the testimony of eyewitnesses ... that feeds into our verification databases to get a sense of how accurate the watches and warnings were," he said.

Environment Canada, he says, often uses media uploaded to the Weather Network to find evidence of severe weather.

However, he says the most useful pictures, for example of hail, are those that include a ruler or scale, to get a precise reading. 

Even including a common item like a Toonie can help.

For tree damage, he suggests having a car or person in the shot for scale.

When it comes to tornadoes, however, it's a bit more complicated.

This photo of downed trees, taken by Weather Network viewer Jason Dixon, helped E.C. confirm a tornado passed near Sioux Lookout on June 18.
This photo of downed trees, taken by Weather Network viewer Jason Dixon, helped E.C. confirm a tornado passed near Sioux Lookout on June 18.

Coulson says for many tornadoes in Ontario, a funnel may not be visible all the way from the base of the cloud to the ground.

He says if you spot a funnel cloud, and have a clear view of the base, see if you can spot swirling dust or debris.

"If we do see that, then we now have evidence of a full-fledged tornado, not just funnel cloud," he says.

No matter how you shoot or film tornadoes or active weather, however, Coulson says, above all, stay safe.

He says he's seen many Youtube videos uploaded by users who shot  severe weather with an apparent disregard for their own safety.

He says even in the case of non-severe thunderstorms, there is still plenty of risk from lightning if you're not in a proper shelter.

"When that storm is close enough to be dangerous, stop spotting, stop the filming and get into a solid shelter," he said.

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