Meteorologists challenged after local radar station down during Regina tornado

Weather radar was not operating the night a tornado touched down and caused damage south of Regina, making it difficult for meteorologists to track the storm.

Environment and Climate Change Canada says the tornado landed south of the city at around 8:55 p.m. on Saturday, but a tornado warning did not go out until seven minutes later.

Department meteorologist Terri Lang says a radar station near Regina was down that day, making it hard to get readings on spinning activity in  clouds.

She says the radar in Bethune, 60 kilometres northwest of Regina, has been down since May 24 due to a broken piece of equipment. The radar is expected to be fixed by June 1.

“It didn’t help the situation,” Lang said. “It made it more challenging to try and track the storm.”

Lang says meteorologists were using radar near Saskatoon, western Manitoba and northern Montana to track the storm. They also used satellite photos, surface observations and lightning detectors.

She said a thunderstorm warning was issued just after 8 p.m. after receiving reports of heavy rain and hail.

Lang said thunderstorms are dangerous and have the capacity to produce tornadoes.

“When there is a severe thunderstorm warning issued, people should be aware that things can happen and they should be prepared to take measures,” she said. “It’s severe storm season on the prairies.”

The tornado damaged a farm south of Regina, partially ripping off the roof and some of the siding from a storage facility.

Homes on the property appeared unscathed.

Lang said a team headed to the farm Monday afternoon to survey the damage.

Craig Boehm, a local storm chaser who visited the damaged site, said the property owners told him they weren’t home the evening of the storm.

“For people I’ve run across in tornado-damaged situations, they were one of the most laid-back couples I’ve met,” he said. “I think if it would have hit their house, their reaction might have been a little different.”

Boehm said he began chasing the storm Saturday evening after noticing a small storm cell taking shape at 7:30 p.m.

Not having the nearby radar made it difficult to estimate the size of the storm, he said, so he had to rely more on his eyes.

Boehm said the storm began to gain steam and that it looked like a tornado was going to form.

“It was on the ground for about five to seven minutes,” he said. “It travelled a couple miles and unfortunately did hit that farm in the area.”

Boehm said the downed radar could have delayed the warning messages.

However, he said he feels for meteorologists.

“I won’t speak for them, but I feel there’s probably some frustration on their side,” he said.

“The tornado had been over (when the tornado warning went out), but it still needs to be warned because any storm can be cyclical and produce another tornado.”

Lang said meteorologists rely heavily on radar and not having the station operating makes her job more challenging.

“Lightning detection helps, satellite imagery helps, severe weather reports help us quite a bit and storm spotters help, but being without that radar, it makes it a lot more challenging,” she said.

Lang said the Bethune radar, which is relatively new, is the only one that has been down.

Since it began operating in 2019, it’s been available 99 per cent of the time, she said.

“The timing could not have been worse.”

In 2017, the federal government announced it was replacing Canada’s radar network to improve forecasting abilities.

It’s expected all radars will be replaced by this summer.

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