Citizens, experts reflect on deadly Goderich tornado – 10 years on

·2 min read

It only took 15 minutes for a tornado to rip through Goderich exactly 10 years ago Saturday, leaving behind a trail of damage estimated at more than $100 million.

With winds reaching speeds of up to 270 kilometres an hour, it killed one man, injured 35, and demolished 50 buildings while damaging another 280.

The twister was the strongest to hit Ontario in 15 years.

What has changed in the decade since? Everything, Goderich Mayor John Grace said.

“We are absolutely better prepared” to deal with tornadoes, he said.

“We’ve built infrastructure . . . better communications, more generators, more technology embedded so we can respond quicker, more effectively, and safer than we did.”

Although Southwestern Ontario has yet to see anything like what happened in 2011, the region is no stranger to tornadoes. The Windsor-to-Barrie corridor is notorious for frequent and even deadly twisters, earning it the title of Ontario’s tornado alley.

Twenty tornadoes have touched down in Ontario this season, with eight confirmed in Southwestern Ontario, according to the Northern Tornadoes Project (NTP) at Western University.

“The understanding of tornado risk is pretty well established in southern Ontario because we have enough population here that a lot of the tornadoes don’t go undetected,” said David Sills, executive director of NTP, a research lab dedicated to studying twisters.

“Some of the really weak tornadoes . . . are very difficult to see using satellite imagery, but anything (stronger), we’re thinking that we’re catching 80 to 90 per cent across the country.”

The most active day this year was July 15 when a tornado hit Barrie. NTP confirmed six others that day, including three near Lake Simcoe and others near Algonquin Park.

The worst on record in this area ripped through Woodstock and Oxford County with wind speeds up to 320 km/h in August 1979, leaving two dead, more than 130 injured, and thousands without a home.

Nationally, the country averages about 60 tornadoes a year, with many others going undetected.

Despite the high frequency of twisters across the province, engineering experts say building codes do not account for wind forces from tornadoes, otherwise known as uplift.

There are regulations for wind force resistance but none account explicitly for tornadoes, said Girma Bitsuamlak, director of wind engineering facilities at Western’s WindEEE Research Institute.

However, he added, “people are becoming more aware. Now, at least we have the ear of the public and policymakers.”

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press

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