In Ontario, we average about 20 tornados every year. The ‘tornado season’ usually runs from April until September. Many people may think that with the advent of ‘dopler radar’ and other new technologies, that there will be lots of warning before a tornado forms. In fact, the resolution of a radar image is measured in kilometers, while the average tornado is only 50 meters across. Radar can tell a professional forecaster that a storm is capable of spawning a tornado, and forecasters use their judgement to determine if a tornado is likely. However, only a trained pair of eyes looking at the sky can tell if a tornado is in the process of forming.
Anyone can identify a tornado that is on the ground. By that time, it may be too late for the community it may have touched down in. This is why it is so vital to have trained weather spotters out there, and a way to instantly get the message of what they see back to the professionals. A trained observer reporting that they see a tail cloud, or a wall cloud in the process of forming, may allow the Severe Weather Office to issue Tornado Warnings with enough time for people to get to safety. Canwarn spotters are the eyes for the Severe Weather Office.
This is the job that over 1500 volunteers across Ontario are doing. Contributing their time, expertise and equipment, these Canwarn-trained radio amateurs provide an important service to the communities of Ontario. When severe weather threatens, volunteers in the affected areas tune their radios to their local ‘Net’ frequencies, and check in to the communications Net. In charge of the Net is a Controller (usually operating from a ‘radio room’ in Environment Canada’s Toronto offices) who takes weather reports from the radio amateurs, and passes these reports directly to the Severe Weather forecaster.
From the radio-room at Environment Canada, a Net Controller can communicate with Canwarn spotters across the province, or even across the country, should there be a need for national emergency communications.