Natural Hazards

, Volume 66, Issue 1, pp 117–137 | Cite as

Comparison of the Canadian and US tornado detection and warning systems

  • Samanthi W. Durage
  • S. C. WirasingheEmail author
  • Janaka Ruwanpura
Original Paper


Tornadoes are one of the most powerful and destructive weather events. The frequency of tornado occurrence is highest in North America, especially in the US Canada is second only to the US, and approximately, 80 occurrences are reported annually. Communities are impacted only when and if a tornado touches down on the ground. Early recognition of tornadoes and proper communication of warnings in the pre-touchdown phase helps the public to be ready and respond appropriately and effectively. Given that tornadoes are hard to predict and the warnings give only a very brief window of opportunity to prepare for evacuation to a secure underground or other location, each activity in the detection and warning phases is critically important. This study is focused on conducting a detailed comparison of the tornado detection and warning systems in the US and Canada. The sequences of activities and their interrelationships in the tornado detection and warning systems of each country are identified and developed as networks. A detection and warning network for Canada is developed, using Calgary as a case study, whereas a separate network is developed for the US, showing how local residents receive tornado warnings initiated by a local weather forecast office. Moreover, collaborating partners are identified, and their involvement at each level of the information flow is recognized. The two networks are compared and critically analyzed, focusing on the key issues, such as prediction/detection capabilities, warning decision-making, warning dissemination methods, and the spotters’ role. This qualitative comparison supports the recognition of key areas that need to be considered in improving the tornado detection and warning system in Canada.


Tornadoes Canada US Detection Warning Comparison 



The authors wish to acknowledge the assistance of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (particularly Chief Bruce Burrell), the Prairie and Arctic Storm Prediction Center, USA Storm Prediction Center and the Weather Forecast Office - Norman, Oklahoma, in conducting this research.


  1. AEA (2011) Alberta Emergency Alert. Government of Alberta, Accessed 29 July 2011
  2. Brotzge J, Erickson S (2008) NWS tornado warnings with zero or negative lead times. Weather Forecast 24(1):140–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. CANWARN (2011) Central Alberta Amateur Radio Club, Accessed 4 Aug 2011
  4. Cao Z, Cai H (2008) Tornado frequency and its large-scale environments over Ontario, Canada. Open Atmospher Sci J 2(1):256–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cao Z, Cai H (2011) Detection of tornado frequency trend over Ontario, Canada. Open Atmospher Sci J 5(1):27–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Collins ML, Kapucu N (2008) Early warning systems and disaster preparedness and response in local government. Disaster Prevent Manag 17(5):587–600CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Comstock RD, Archer P (2004) Planning + practice = preparedness: a case study in injury prevention, Work. Work J Prevent Assess Rehabil 23(3):199–204Google Scholar
  8. Dore MHI (2003) Forecasting the conditional probabilities of natural disasters in Canada as a guide for disaster preparedness. Nat Hazards 28(2–3):249–269CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dotto L, Duchesne L, Etkin D et al (2010) Canadians at risk: Our exposure to natural hazards, Canadian Assessment of Natural Hazards Project, paper series – number 48. Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, OntarioGoogle Scholar
  10. EC (2010) Public weather warnings for Canada, Environment Canada, Accessed 12 July 2010
  11. EC (2011) Weather and Meteorology, Environment Canada, Accessed 12 April 2011
  12. Emergency Management Act (2007) S.C.2007, c.15 Minister of Justice. Accessed 4 Aug 2011
  13. Etkin DA (1995) Beyond the year 2000, more tornadoes in Western Canada? Implications from the historical record. Nat Hazards 12:19–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Etkin D, Brun SE, Shabbar A, Joe P (2001) Tornado climatology of Canada revisited: tornado activity during different phases of ENSO. Int J Climatol 21(8):915–938CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fernando HJ, Braun A, Galappatti R, Ruwanpura JY, Wirasinghe SC (2008) Tsunamis: manifestation and aftermath. In: Gad-el-Hak M (ed) Large-scale disasters: prediction, control and mitigation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 258–292Google Scholar
  16. Golden JH, Adams CR (2000) The tornado problem: forecast warning, and response. Nat Hazards Rev 1(2):107–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Goliger AM, Milford RV (1998) A review of worldwide occurrence of tornadoes. J Wind Eng Ind Aerodyn 74–76:111–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Grosvenor GM, Fahey JM, Allen WL, Carroll A (1998) Tornado distribution in North America, natural hazards of North America. National Geographic Society. Accessed 15 Aug 2011
  19. Henstra D, McBean GA (2005) Canadian disaster management policy: moving toward a paradigm shift? Can Pub Policy 31(3):303–318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. League CE, Diaz W, Philips B, Bass EJ, Kloesel K, Gruntfest E, Gessner A (2010) Emergency manager decision-making in tornado warning communication. Meteorol Appl 17(2):163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. McBean GA (2005) Risk mitigation strategies for tornadoes in the context of climate change and development. Mitig Adapt Strat Glob Change 10(3):357–366CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. McCarthy DH (2001) The role of ground-truth reports in the warning decision-making process during the 3 May 1999 oklahoma tornado outbreak. Weather Forecast 17(3):647–649CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Murphy B, Falkiner L, McBean G, Dolan H, Kovacs P (2005) Enhancing local level emergency management: the influence of disaster experience and the role of households and neighbourhoods. Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, ICLR Research, Paper Series no 43, CanadaGoogle Scholar
  24. Newark MJ (1984) Canadian tornadoes, 1950–1979. Atmospher Ocean 22(3):253–343Google Scholar
  25. Newark MJ, McCulloch D (1992) Using tornado climatology to help plan a doppler radar network. Nat Hazards 5:211–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. NWS (2010a) National weather service reference guide. National Weather Service, USA. Accessed 9 Sept 2011
  27. NWS (2010b) National Warnings. National Weather Service, Accessed 14 July 2010
  28. Personal Communication (2011) Discussion with Greg Carbin, Warning coordination meteorologist, National Storm Prediction Center, Oklahoma, USA, 23 Aug 2011Google Scholar
  29. PS (2010) Canada’s National Disaster Mitigation Strategy. Accessed 15 Aug 2011
  30. Ruwanpura J, Wickramaratne S, Braun A, Wirasinghe SC (2009) Planning and modeling for mitigation of tsunami impacts. Civil Eng Environ Syst 26(2):195–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Schumacher RS, Lindsey DT, Schumacher AB et al (2010) Multidisciplinary analysis of an unusual tornado: meteorology, climatology, and the communication and interpretation of warnings, Weather and forecasting, vol 25, No 5, pp 1412–1429, OctoberGoogle Scholar
  32. Sills DML (2009) On the MSC forecasters forums and the future role of the human forecaster. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 90(5):619–627CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Simmons KM, Sutter D (2006) Improvements in tornado warnings and tornado causalities. Int J Mass Emergen Disasters 24(3):351–369Google Scholar
  34. SKYWARN (2011) National SKYWARN Homepage, Accessed 15 Sept 2011
  35. Stensrud DJ, Xue M, Wicker LJ et al. (2009) Convective-scale Warn-on-forecast system: a vision for 2020, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, vol 90, no 10, pp 1487–1499, OctoberGoogle Scholar
  36. Wickramaratne S, Ruwanpura J, Wirasinghe SC (2011) Decision analysis for a tsunami detection system: case study: Sri Lanka. Civil Eng Environ Syst 28(4):353–373CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Samanthi W. Durage
    • 1
  • S. C. Wirasinghe
    • 1
    Email author
  • Janaka Ruwanpura
    • 1
  1. 1.Schulich School of EngineeringUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

Personalised recommendations