A meteorologist from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) is confirming that a long, thin funnel cloud posted on social media while touching down in East Balzac on May 22 was not a tornado at all, but rather a larger than usual “dust devil.”
Meteorologist Sara Hoffman told the Rocky View Weekly there are two types of tornadoes typically found in Alberta; landspouts, which emerge spontaneously from dense formations of cumulus clouds and pack a much milder punch, and the classic, terrifying tornadoes that sometimes cause severe destruction emerge from supercell thunderstorms.
But the recent Balzac event, she said, classified as neither.
“What happened on May 22 near Balzac was neither a landspout tornado nor a supercell tornado,” Hoffman said. “It was just a dust devil … There has been no (confirmed) tornadoes in Alberta this year.”
In fact, said Hoffman, there has been no confirmed tornadoes anywhere on the western Canadian prairies to date in 2023 (at least, as of May 25). Conditions are just not right for their formation at the moment, she explained.
“There are four ingredients that go into making the perfect environment for a vigorous tornado,” Hoffman said. “Those are an abundance of moisture, a lot of instability in the atmosphere, good wind sheer, and some kind of trigger for it – like storms coming through or daytime heating to get the thunderstorms going.
“This year we are really missing out on that moisture component.”
Hoffman said ECCC would classify the tornado risk locally as low if the hot dry forecast projected over the summer months holds true, but admitted Alberta can sometimes prove itself the exception to any weather rule.
“Alberta is a ‘magical’ place and there have been tornadoes without a lot of moisture before. But they are far less frequent and common,” she said. “I don’t see this being an anymore active (storm) year than normal, and, in fact just given how dry it is, I would say treat this just as a normal summer convection year.”
Hoffman suggested those who might be concerned about the potential for severe weather in the greater Calgary region should follow Environment and Climate Change Canada’s daily Thunderstorm Outlook reports on Twitter @ECCCWeatherAB.
The meteorologist said unfortunately, even with recent downpours in some areas of the province, ECCC expects the hot, dry weather to be a prevailing pattern this summer for much of Alberta.
“We have been under a very stable air mass and it has just been too dry,” she said. “This is going to be a hot summer.”