On July 31st it will be 30 years since a powerful and damaging tornado ripped through Edmonton and area. On what became known as Black Friday, 27 people lost their lives, hundreds of homes were destroyed and damage totals exceeded $330 million. To this day, quickly darkening clouds on the horizon bring back horrifying memories for thousands of Albertans.
There were seven other tornados in Alberta that summer day. Originally, weather forecasters had warned of unusually severe thunderstorms but the sheer power, size and destruction of the weather to come was not known. Enhanced warnings of tornados went out when the first one was spotted near Leduc but for many that was too late.
The federal government has invested substantially over the years to upgrade radars, upgrade satellites and the computer systems behind them. In the 30 years since, weather forecasting has improved by leaps and bounds and our ability to share critical weather warnings is unmatched in our history. New computer models can now more accurately forecast the weather and even predict tornados and their probable paths in advance. We now have accurate lightening, windchill, humidex, pollen, ice and other types of forecasting that did not exist just a few years ago. For some areas, weather forecasting is now available for different neighborhoods within the city.
While we all can remember a day when the forecast was wrong, and we like to curse the ‘weatherman’, we take for granted how accurate the forecasts generally are. Accurate weather forecasting is a critical part of our economy as it helps farmers, mariners, pilots, construction crews and the general public make important and life-saving decisions ahead of time.
Canadians now have the ability to track weather through radio, television, computers and various other methods. The ability to send weather warnings to people via their televisions, computers and smartphones has saved lives and property across Canada. As we head into the severe summer weather season, Canadians are encouraged to consult the weather on a regular basis, especially if they plan activities outside or may not have easy access to safe cover from the weather. There are a number of free weather alerts available through weather forecasting websites, including Environment Canada at www.weather.gc.ca.
Those who take risks with the weather should realize they often put their lives, their loved ones’ lives and the lives of emergency workers at risk unnecessarily. As the saying goes, “If it is predictable, it’s preventable”. Let’s have a great summer and thank those who work invisibly behind the scenes to ensure we have a safe summer, no matter what the forecast may be.