Canada's ten deadliest individual tornadoes (to June 2008) according to Environment Canada (figures in the list are their accepted tallies) have been:
Regina, Saskatchewan, June 30, 1912: 28 dead, hundreds injured
Edmonton, Alberta, July 31, 1987: 27 dead, 300 injured.
Windsor, Ontario, June 17, 1946: 17 dead,
Pine Lake, Alberta, July 14, 2000: 12 dead, 140 injured
Valleyfield, Quebec, August 16, 1888: 9 dead, 14 injured
Windsor, Ontario, April 3, 1974: 9 dead, 30 injured
Barrie, Ontario, May 31, 1985: 8 dead, 155 injured
Sudbury, Ontario, August 20, 1970: 6 dead, 200 injured
St-Rose, Quebec, June 14, 1892: 6 dead, 26 injured
Buctouche, New Brunswick, August 6, 1879: 5 dead, 10 injured
Destruction resulting from tornado striking Regina SK on 30 June 1912. Photo courtesy Library and Archives Canada
In most cases, these storms occurred before the Fujita Tornado Damage Scale had been implemented. For those earlier storms, a Fujita rating has been assigned by meteorologists based on the contemporary damage reports. More recent assessments are derived from site inspections of tornado damage.
Regina, Saskatchewan, 30 June 1912
Known as the Regina Cyclone, this storm has been rated an F4 on the Fujita Scale based on reported damage and historical photographs. To date, it is the deadliest tornadic storm in Canadian history, taking 28 lives and leaving more than 200 injured.
The storm struck as Regina residents prepared for Dominion Day (now Canada Day) celebrations. This Sunday was oppressively hot and humid Regina was in the midst of a heat wave prior to the storm's rampage. According to observers, the tornado touched down 18 kilometres (11 miles) south of the city in the late afternoon and moved northward into Regina's downtown, destroying all in its three-block-wide path. Observers reported seeing an enormous green funnel cloud, which later turned dark brown as it picked up debris and soil, accompanied by forks of lightning and hail. Some reports suggest the tornado narrowed as it entered the city, though this may have been based on a change in the width of the dust cloud swirling around the storm vortex. There were also reports that two funnels were initially present; if so, one may have dissipated before reaching the city.
Before entering the city, the twister tore apart the farm of the Thomas Beare family, tossing animals and machinery with ease. It next ripped into the Stephenson farm house and followed with the destruction of several more farmsteads and a church before reaching the city limits. Its first victim was Andrew Roy, a visitor from Quebec, at the Kerr farm.
The tornado then passed over Wascana Lake, a man-made lake located near the provincial Legislative Building where Bruce Langton and Philip Steele were canoeing. The tornado spun their canoe into the air, knocking Steele into the water. However, Langton managed to stay with the canoe which was carried by the storm winds to Wascana Park. There, the storm deposited Langton and canoe on the ground. Langton was dazed by the ordeal and when found reportedly still held the paddle clutched in his hands. Both boys survived with generally minor injuries though Langton had a broken arm. Another paddler on the lake was not as lucky as he was killed when the tornado lifted his boat and slammed it against a nearby building.
As the twister plowed though Regina's commercial core, it demolished most of the buildings in its path. North of the lake and the Legislature Building, a full block of homes was destroyed with incredibly only a single fatality. Over 400 of the city's finest buildings crumpled in the howling winds, including the new Carnegie Public Library, the Canadian Pacific Railway roundhouse, many churches, and private homes in the affluent residential sector on the city's south side. The home of the premier Walter Scott was among those flattened. Observers remarked that the tornado picked up grain elevators and tossed them like toothpicks. After rampaging through Regina, the tornado raged northward for another 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) before finally dissipating.
Destruction resulting from tornado striking Regina SK on 30 June 1912. Photo courtesy Library and Archives Canada
In the storm's wake, efforts began to free those trapped in the rubble. Volunteers held kerosene lamps to aid those searching the rubble and to assist doctors treating the injured. Many who lost their homes found shelter with friends and relatives, but for others, the city dealt an added blow, charging the homeless for cots set up in schools and parks, and later billing homeowners for the removal of the rubble from their demolished homes.
In total, about 500 buildings were destroyed or suffered damaged and 2500 were left homeless. Property damage was estimated at $1.2 million (1912 funds).
Edmonton, Alberta, 31 July 1987
The Regina tornado ranks as Canada's most deadly by a single fatality, but most experts will agree that the Edmonton storm of 1987 ranks as the nation's most damaging. It was rated as a strong F4, perhaps an F5. The Edmonton tornado was also one of the most observed storms in Canadian weather history. Video/movie footage exists for the full lifetime of the storm on the ground.
Similar to the Regina cyclone, the Edmonton tornado occurred just before a holiday weekend and at the end of a period of hot and unusually humid weather. On Friday 31 July ss a cold front approached the area, the Alberta Weather Centre issued a severe storm watch for Edmonton and vicinity at 1:40 pm MDT and upgraded to a severe storm warning about an hour later. When the Centre received a report of a tornado on the ground near Leduc, 25 km south of the city, it issued tornado warnings over Weather Radio at just past 3 pm.
As the warning was being issued, a tornado formed at Beaumont, east of Edmonton International Airport. This twister skirted the southeastern region of Edmonton initially moving northeastward and hammering farms east of Mill Woods. As it crossed the Sherwood Park Freeway, it turned northward toward the industrial park where it severely damaged or obliterated 50-60 businesses. The tornado then took sights on Refinery Row to the north, arriving about 3:30 pm. As it crumpled refinery infrastructures, it turned the area into a rubble pile of twisted metal and spilled toxic chemicals. About a dozen railcars from a CN freight train blew off the tracks. The storm winds also flipped a huge oil storage tank. The storm killed a dozen people in the industrial area, then headed to the North Saskatchewan River valley.
After crossing the river, the twister took aim on the Clareview neighborhood crushing three homes and damaging another dozen. But it was saving its deadliest knockout blow for last. At around 4:25 pm, the tornado crossed into the Evergreen Mobile Home Park and devastated it. The power of the storm destroyed or damaged beyond repair more that 200 of the 600 trailers; 91 were completely flattened. Fifteen of the park's 1700 residents died and scores were injured.
Soon thereafter, its fury spent, the tornado dissipated. It had remained on the ground for about an hour, cutting a swath of destruction 40 kilometres (25 miles) long and as great as a kilometre (0.6 miles) wide . At its destructive peak it earned an F4 rating, but may have briefly raged as an F5. (If so, it would have been Canada's first F5.) Massive hailstones, heavy rain and powerful straight-line winds also accompanied the tornado in inflicting misery on Edmonton. At least two individuals were knocked unconscious by hailstones, which reached tennis-ball size. The largest hailstone ever collected in Alberta fell in the Mill Wood area. It weighed 264 grams while a second weighed but a fraction of a gram less. Most areas on south-central and north Edmonton received more than 40 mm of rain over the course of the day, and in some localized deluges, approximately 30 to 40 mm of rain fell in one hour.
Twenty-seven died, over 300 suffered injuries, and more than 300 homes were destroyed. The damage was estimated at $330 million. Based on the combination of loss of life, injuries and property damage, the Edmonton tornado ranks as Alberta's worst natural disaster and one of Canada's worst weather disasters.
Windsor, Ontario, 17 June 1946
The tornado that struck Windsor around 6 pm on 17 June was an international affair. The tornado initially touched down south of Detroit near River Rouge, Michigan and crossed the Detroit River into Ontario. Moving east-northeastward, it cut across southern Windsor then touched down near the center of the city. The tornado knocked power out for most of Windsor and destroyed or damaged around 400 homes. It also destroyed the main printing office of The Windsor Star. In a gesture of cooperation, The Detroit News offered the Star use of their printing facility and gave them priority usage so they could report the tornado news to the city. On the following day, Windsorites found their daily newspaper did not have usual The Windsor Star banner but that of The Detroit News, below the headline sat a note:
To the Readers of The Windsor Star
"Crippled by the terrible disaster which struck Windsor last night, The Windsor Star is enabled today to bring news of the holocaust to its readers through the kindly co-operation of The Detroit News."
According to The Windsor Star, Orlo Farnham, who lived a few miles west of Windsor, remembered seeing the house across the tracks from him picked up by the tornado and hurled into the air. Within seconds, his house was also blown away but fortunately he and his wife escaped before the twister hit. Farnham's next-door neighbors were not as lucky. The home of Nelson Jones was spread over the landscape and carried three members of the family to their death. His cross-street neighbor Walter Couvillion recalled seeing it go. "You could see debris, parts of houses and clothing being sucked up the funnel. You could hardly believe that such a thing was happening before your eyes."
Along the tornado's 60-m (35 mile) path, it lifted several houses completely off their foundations. After leaving Windsor, it then moved across Sandwich West Township (now LaSalle), tearing through farmland and woods and then skirted north of Windsor Airport heading toward Lake St Clair. Before dissipating over the lake, it ripped through the town of Tecumseh.
Damage reports from the area suggest the tornado was of F3/F4 strength. Seventeen died, hundreds were injured by the tornado which inflicted around $10 million in damages.
Pine Lake, Alberta, 14 July 2000
The tornado that struck Pine Lake, Alberta was Canada's first killer tornado since 1994 and first addition to the Canadian top ten list since the Edmonton tornado of 1987. Pine Lake is located about 25 km (15 miles) southeast of Red Deer and 150 km (95 miles) northeast of Calgary in a popular recreational area, particularly on this midsummer weekend.
Shortly after noon on the 14th, thunderstorms formed over the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in western Alberta then moved northeastward across the plains. A narrow band of low level moist air lay to the south of the storm's trajectory giving enough instability to the air for the thunderstorms to form into a supercell. Environment Canada issued a severe thunderstorm watch at 5:37 pm MDT for the region surrounding Red Deer that included Pine Lake and about forty minutes later upgraded the watch to a warning.
At approximately 7 pm a tornado formed within the cell and touched down 5 km (3 miles) west of the Green Acres Campground at Pine Lake. In its half-hour lifetime, the twister covered approximately 20 km (12 miles). The powerful vortex, accompanied by golf ball- to baseball-size hail, tore across the countryside toward the campground which was crowded with over 700 campers, many gathered for their evening meal.
The F3 storm overwhelmed the tents and recreational vehicles in its path as it raged through the campgrounds, ripping up a swathe 800 to 1500 metres (0.5 to 1 mile) wide. When it hit the campgrounds it tossed as many as 70 trailer units, boats and other vehicles into the lake and crushed others beyond recognition. Several individuals were also tossed into the lake and forced to swim ashore. By the end of the first night, emergency responders had set the official casualty list at 9 dead and 132 severely injured. Hundreds of others received minor injuries and were treated onsite. Rescue workers evacuated the severely injured to hospitals in nearby Red Deer as well as Calgary and Edmonton. Three of those died in intensive care units from their injuries, raising the final death toll to 12.
Valleyfield, Quebec, 16 August 1888
I was unable to find detailed information on this tornado. It crossed from Lancaster Township, Ontario to St-Zotique, Quebec and then to Valleyfield, Quebec on 16 August 1888. The accepted death toll is nine but may have been as high as eleven. The injury figure was pegged at fourteen. The tornado caused extensive property damage.
Windsor, Ontario, 3 April 1974
The tornado that struck Windsor, Ontario arose on a day when an infamous tornado outbreak struck the mideastern United States. According to the US National Weather Service, the "Super Outbreak" was the worst tornado outbreak in US history with 148 tornadoes touching down across 13 states. Over a 16-hour period, 330 people died and 5,484 were injured across a damage path covering more than 2,500 miles in length. Included in this outbreak was the infamous F5 Xenia (OH) tornado which alone accounted for 34 deaths and 1150 injuries. One additional tornado occurred during that outbreak when the severe weather system spilled over the international border into Ontario.
The severe weather began around the Great Lakes region early that morning and by 1 pm EDT, Canada's Atmospheric Environment Service office in Toronto had issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the Lake St Clair region of southwestern Ontario. There was some local confusion as to whether the region on the Canadian side of the border was under a tornado watch or warning by evening. However, Wayne County, Michigan, just across the river, was under a tornado warning issued by the US Weather Service. Windsor broadcast media reported the US severe weather warnings, in part because they had many listeners on the US side, and perhaps because they felt similar weather could strike in Ontario. Reportedly, the CKLW newsroom called the Windsor weather station at about 7:45 pm to inquire as to the status of warnings around the city. The response downplayed any chance of a tornado in Ontario: there was "little or no chance since tornadoes never cross the (Detroit) River." (Kueneman and Rose, 1974 study, Ohio State University).
At 8 pm, a funnel cloud near Peche Island (aka Peach Island) was reported to the Windsor Police Department. Minutes later, a second call reported a mall in Windsor had been hit by a tornado. At 8:10, the tornado struck the former Windsor Curling Club near downtown Windsor. Of the nine dead and over 30 injured from this tornado, most casualties occurred at this rink. The F3 twister also damaged several homes along its 200-300-m swath of destruction.
Barrie, Ontario, 31 May 1985
Eleven years after the Windsor tornado and American Super Outbreak, another major outbreak hit the United States. Forty-one tornadoes formed over Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario. Thirteen of those occurred in Southern Ontario, among the highest recorded number of tornadoes to strike the province on a single day. Of all the tornadoes in Canada, these are the ones for which I have the most intimate connection as two had immediate effects on a couple of my slopitch teammates.
Interestingly, the Ontario tornadoes were the first to form in the outbreak, beginning about 3 pm EDT as a cold air mass swept out of the northwest to conflict with hot, humid air lying south of the Great Lakes. Afternoon temperatures approached 30 oC (87 oF) with high humidity making the weather situation very unstable and conducive for severe thunderstorm formation. As a result, Environment Canada put out a severe thunderstorm warning at 2:25pm for Bruce County, located south of Lake Huron/Georgian Bay. At around 2:50pm, the first twister, an F2 tornado, touched down briefly in the Lion's Head area, north of Wiarton on the Bruce Peninsula.
About the same time, two thunderstorm cells developed that would grow into deadly supercells. The first sprang up east of Clinton, the other further north near Walkerton. Within an hour, these supercells would spawn killer tornadoes. While these storms developed, the day's second tornado grounded south of Hopeville, causing some localized F3 damage along its 17-km (10.6 mile) path. It was followed by another F3 twister that developed out of the northern supercell north of Corbetton in Dufferin County around 4:15 pm. Along its 40-km (25 mile) path, it damaged a few homes in the Terra Nova and Mansfield area.
The last tornado spawned by the northern supercell would be the most infamous of the lot. It formed around 4:30 pm touching down in southern Simcoe County about 10 km (6.2 miles) southwest from the Barrie city limits. Moments later, the twister knocked out the main hydro (Canadian term for electrical power) transformers bringing power to the city. It then wiped out a small pine forest, snapping 10-m (32.8 ft) trees off at the 2-m (6.5 ft) height. The storm, whose path now measured 600-m (0.4 mile) wide, trekked steadily toward the southern environs of Barrie. F3/F4-damage occurred on a square-block of older homes in the Crawford Street and Patterson Road subdivision, killing three.
Next an industrial park lay in its path; when the furious winds struck, they twisted steel I-beams out of shape and embedded splinters of wood in brick mortar. At least sixteen factories received extensive damage or were destroyed. One person died in the wreckage, but the number could have been much higher. Many businesses had sent their workers home early when the tornado knocked out the power to the park. The twister then crossed Highway 400 at the Essa Road interchange, tossing several vehicles into the ditch and tearing guard rails from their supports and wrapping them around hydro poles. It next passed just south of the Barrie Racetrack where it heavily damaged the grandstand and destroyed several barns. Eye witnesses claim they saw one horse lifted off the ground and gently placed down some distance away. The horse was subsequently nicknamed "Twister Resistor."
The Barrie subdivision of Hillsdale provided the next target for the storm's destructive force. The upper floors of an entire Adelaide Street townhouse complex were torn off by the tornadic winds while other sections were completely levelled. Continuing on toward Lake Simcoe's Kempenfelt Bay, the vortex tore apart four warehouses near Highway 11, then hit a subdivision and adjacent marina, tossing 35 boats and their concrete moorings into the lake. Moving over the bay as a waterspout, the vortex dissipated just before reaching the opposite shore. Debris from the town of Barrie was later discovered 5 km (3 miles) out into Lake Simcoe. In the tornado's wake, eight were dead in Barrie, 48 serious injuries and 233 minor injuries.
Around 4:15 pm, the southern supercell that had formed east of Clinton spawned a tornado north of Arthur that would be known as the Grand Valley tornado. It first encountered a line of hydro transmission towers and twisted them like pretzels. The storm, now 200 metres (220 yards) in width, slammed into the small community of Grand Valley around 4:30 pm and caused major damage. The local library, two churches, and as many as 40 homes sustained severe damage from the F4 twister. Two died.
Continuing eastward across the countryside, the tornado skirted Orangeville, crushing a shopping plaza where one person was seriously injured. A half hour after razing Grand Valley, it struck an area south of Tottenham severely damaging twenty buildings, some newly built. Two died there. The twister marched northeastward crossing Highway 400 into York region across mostly rural lands. It barely missed the cities of Bradford and Newmarket before it finally dissipated west of Mount Albert at 5:25pm. The total path of the Grand Valley tornado extended for 105 kilometres (65 miles), the longest tornado track ever measured in Canada.
Most of the tornado activity on this day then moved eastward into Southeastern Ontario (essentially that portion of the province east of metropolitan Toronto) in the early evening. Many of the remaining tornadoes formed along Highway 7 from Lindsay to Madoc, hitting near the towns of Wagner Lake (F1), Reaboro (F1), Ida (F2), Rice Lake (F3) between 6:00 to 6:30pm. Damage was light compared to the Barrie and Grand Valley tornadoes, and no fatalities were recorded. The last tornado to form west of the Highway 400 corridor arose from a new supercell forming in eastern Perth County near Milverton. This F3 twister touched down at 6:15 pm and took an east-northeast, 33-km (20.6 miles) track nearly parallel to the Grand Valley tornado causing sporadic damage from Alma towards the Hillsburgh to farm buildings.
The Ontario tornado swarm killed 12 in total, injured over 300 and left hundreds more homeless and out of work as nearly a thousand businesses and homes were destroyed or severely damage. The estimated cost was pegged at $100 million in property damage. It was the deadliest tornado event to hit Ontario since the Windsor Tornado during the Super Outbreak of April 3, 1974.
Sudbury, Ontario, 20 August 1970
A rare, strong tornado struck Northern Ontario near Sudbury on 20 August 1970. The tornado first touched down in the Sudbury community of Lively, then trekked eastward through the communities of Copper Cliff and Robinson before reaching the city. A second tornado struck the town of Field, 50 km (30 miles) east of Sudbury about an hour later. The Sudbury tornado, rated an F3, caused damaged estimated at $17 million to the INCO smelter at Copper Cliff. Six people died in the tornado and 200 received injuries.
St-Rose, Quebec, 14 June 1892
Little information could be found about this 1892 tornado. It struck St-Rose, located north of Montreal, on 14 June 1892, killing six and injuring 26.
Buctouche, New Brunswick, 6 August 1879
The tornado struck the town of Bouctouche, New Brunswick during the early afternoon of 6 August 1879. Its strength has been estimated as F3, which makes it the easternmost strong tornado to strike North America. Bouctouche is located at the mouth of the Bouctouche River on the Northumberland Strait coast northeast of Moncton.
According to the contemporary New York Times report, severe thunderstorms converged on the area around 1 pm and spawned a "cyclone" about two miles from St Mary's Church. Moving eastward, the storm uprooted trees as it passed over several small woods. It then blasted several farmsteads, scattering barns and animals across the fields. Meandering to the coast, it spared St Mary's Church and the Presbyterian Church but took out the Bouctouche Church before it moved offshore as a waterspout.
As it moved across the region, it tore the arches from the bridge south of the channel and stripped a mill of its covering. At the Bouctouche Church, the convent, was severely damaged and the church and presbytery demolished: "the destruction is indescribable." Local houses were lofted 9.1 m (30 feet) and dashed to pieces.
The final tally of storm casualties was pegged at six dead (some accounts say seven) and ten injured. At the time, it was Canada's deadliest documented tornado strike and would remain so for nine years. More than 80 houses were destroyed along with the church and many farm buildings. Damage was estimates at $100,000, an incredibly high figure for the day.
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