August 23, 2009

Toronto’s recent brush with tornado weather

Filed under: Cancon, Environment — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 17:29

I was deep in downtown Toronto when the storm started to move in, and listening to the professional pants-wetters at 680PanicNews was initially disturbing, but eventually hilarious. Not to minimize the genuine damage caused in Vaughan and the town of Durham. This is how I summarized the weather-related experience in an email to Jon:

I barely made it home before the storm hit . . . it chased me all the way, with the ProfessionalPantsWetters at 680Panic Radio getting more and more excited as the time went on.

I got out of the truck, picked up my laptop, walked to the door, and less than a minute later the storm hit. The power went out about five minutes after that (and didn’t come back on until about 3:30 in the morning).

No obvious damage around the house, thank goodness, although the gazebo tried to go walkies around the yard. It wrapped itself around the patio set, which will take several pairs of hands to disentangle and find out if it’s still usable.

From a follow-up email, specifically about the radio coverage:

At first, they didn’t seem too bad. I turned on the radio just as traffic came to a stop on the DVP just south of the Bloor Viaduct. By the time I got as far as Lawrence, the woman reporter who got all verklempt over the TORNADO ON JARVIS!!!!! wasn’t able to draw a breath without sounding like she was panting or gasping. I was starting to laugh at them by that point.

The meteorpanickologist who started to repeat (several times) that everyone should get into the basement — or lower — or into a closet (aren’t most people’s closets on the upper floor if they’re in a house?) or cower in a bathtub (aren’t they usually upstairs too?) . . .

I also found amusement in the repeated definition of the terms “tornado watch” and “tornado warning”, where almost every time, the description of “tornado warning” was to “_watch_ out for imminent tornado formation”. They just don’t listen to themselves, do they?

I thought it quite telling that one of the better reports was from their entertainment editor, who reported from her car on the way up Victoria Park Avenue. She, at least, sounded calm and reported only what she could see for herself.

Chris Taylor brings some actual data to the discussion of tornado frequency and writes “It can be tempting for Torontonians — who generally think of themselves as an island of tranquillity free of severe weather — to overreact a little.”


  1. On the other hand, tornados _are_ dangerous. And as we are largely out of Tornado Alley, we really have no clue how to deal with one. In Iowa and Nebraska, most public buildings have two maps: one showing the quickest routes _out_ of the building in the event of a fire, and the other showing the quickest routes _into_ the building in the event of a tornado.

    At the University of Waterloo, where my wife worked, there was a tornado warning a few months ago. The news circulated around the office. My wife, born in Iowa, asked “so, what do we do? Where do we go?” And they all looked at her like she had two heads. “Why should we go anywhere?” they asked her. My wife then looked up at this two-storey-tall room, lined with floor-to-ceiling windows, and told them, “if anybody needs me? I’ll be in the basement.”

    And I remember, on a drive through Vermillion, South Dakota, we encountered a large storm, with a dark funnel cloud dipping down. And you really could tell the difference between the locals and the tourists (me) here, after we watched this thing rope out, nearly touch the ground, and then dissipate. The locals in the car were all “whew! That’s a relief.” Whereas I was, “Oh, can we see that again? That was _so_ _cool_!!”

    Comment by James Bow — August 25, 2009 @ 00:01

  2. > The locals in the car were all “whew! That’s
    > a relief.” Whereas I was, “Oh, can we see that
    > again? That was _so_ _cool_!!”

    And here we have proof again that the geek mindset isn’t always pro-survival!

    Comment by Nicholas — August 25, 2009 @ 07:54

  3. It’s also not rocket science. While an evacuation plan would help, all you have to do is use your own God-given brains. Ask yourself “What is the safest place to hide from glass shards, bricks and 2×8 beams travelling laterally at 120kph?” Many people tend to take shelter in the bathroom or the bathtub but honestly, what bathroom has walls that can sustain that sort of impact?

    Basement is a good idea, or for people in apartment/condo highrise buildings, an enclosed fire stairwell. These will tend to be protected with cinderblock and heavy doors, and are a whole lot better off than hiding in your bathroom, which is protected only by plaster or drywall.

    Comment by Chris Taylor — August 26, 2009 @ 13:12

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