On average about eight tornadoes touch down in Alberta every summer.
But that number doesn’t tell the whole story.
According to Dan Kulak, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, there are probably a lot more out there that no one ever hears about.
Environment Canada forecasters rely on eyewitness reports to stay informed about extreme weather events and to keep the public updated about possible dangers lurking in the skies. Tornado statistics include only events confirmed by eyewitnesses -- storms that go unseen or unreported aren’t factored in to the math.
The government of Canada reports that thousands of volunteer weather watchers are keeping their eyes on the skies every day, looking for signs of anything severe or unusual to share with the professionals.
“These reports are a vital source of information because they are often the first and sometimes the only way forecasters receive notice of a localized event, which would otherwise not be detected through remote sensing methods or official observation networks,” the government said on its website.
Social media is giving weather enthusiasts a newer way to share storm reports. Environment Canada is increasingly turning to Twitter as a source of on-the-ground weather information, asking observers to use hashtags such as #abstorm to make their reports easy to find.
Kulak added that although meteorologists use satellite and radar to identify times and locations where tornadoes are most likely to happen, they continue to count on volunteers to provide in-the-moment verification of severe weather events.
“And then we can ground truth with our radars and put out watches and warnings in a timely manner," he said.