Dr. Greg Kopp is the ImpactWX Chair in Severe Storms Engineering, lead researcher in the Northern Tornadoes Project, and a professor in Western University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He received a BSc in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Manitoba in 1989, a MEng from McMaster University in 1991 and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Toronto in 1995. His expertise and research relate to mitigating damage to structures during extreme wind storms such as tornadoes and hurricanes.
He works actively to implement research findings into practice, currently serving as Chair of the ASCE 49 Standards Committee on Wind Tunnel Testing For Buildings and other Structures, and as a member of various other Building Code committees. A former Canada Research Chair in Wind Engineering, he is also the lead researcher for the Three Little Pigs Project at The Insurance Research Lab for Better Homes.
Dr. David Sills is Executive Director of the Northern Tornadoes Project. He received a BSc in Atmospheric Science and Certificate in Meteorology from York University in 1993, as well as a PhD in Atmospheric Science from York University in 1998. He worked for more than 20 years as a severe weather scientist with Environment Canada, conducting research on Canadian tornadoes, severe weather nowcasting and mesoscale meteorology. He was awarded the CMOS Rube Hornstein Medal in Operational Meteorology and the Geoff Howell Citation of Excellence for Innovation.
Dr. Sills serves as Associate Editor for the journals Atmosphere-Ocean and Monthly Weather Review. He is also a member of the ASCE Wind Speed Estimation in Tornadoes Committee charged with updating the EF-scale, and is on the WMO's Nowcasting and Mesoscale Research Working Group.
NTP was founded in 2017 through a partnership between the Toronto-based social impact fund ImpactWX and Western University. ImpactWX's mission is "to enable organizations who, through scientific understanding and public awareness, work to improve people's response and safety during severe weather events." This includes the integration of research and practice - for meteorology, engineering and human behavioral science in the NTP context. The partnership has allowed scientific exploration that would otherwise not have been possible.
Core Project Partner
Dr. John Hanesiak's collaboration with Northern Tornadoes Project provides critical research and meteorological expertise for western Canada. He is a professor in University of Manitoba's Department of Environment and Geography. Dr. Hanesiak received a BSc in Physics and Mathematics from University of Winnipeg in 1990, a Certificate of Meteorology from York University in 1991, a MSc in Atmospheric Science from York University in 1994, and a PhD in Geography from University of Manitoba in 2001. Prior to joining the University of Manitoba in 2001, he was an operational meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada. Currently, he researches convection processes, severe/extreme weather and climate, storms, and surface-atmosphere interactions. He uses field measurements and numerical modelling to better understand the processes and interactions within these areas.
Core Project Staff & Students
Dr. Connell Miller's PhD thesis was all about protecting your home from the elements. The most common and popular types of cladding (like vinyl siding, and roof pavers) have air gaps for drainage and installation purposes. During wind storms, claddings often fail, even though they are designed to withstand that wind. Connell (BESc [Distinction] '14, Structural Engineering, Western University, PhD '20, Structural Engieering, Western University) used full-scale experiments to better understand how wind interacts with air gaps in common types of residential cladding. His research is helping create more accurate building codes for them. "Cladding wind loads in current building and manufacturing codes are either inaccurate or absent," he says. "That is why it is common to see failures of cladding where there shouldn't be." Connell is also a Northern Tornadoes Project full-time research engineer and member of the Tornado Damage Survey Team. Apart from conducting damage surveys, he is also responsible for developing and conducting drone surveys. These map tornado paths at very high resolution, and allow better examination of damaged vegetation and man-made structures.
During warm summer months, Lesley Elliott (BSc [Hons] '04, Atmospheric Science, University of Alberta, MSc '06, Earth and Atmospheric Science, University of Alberta) is exploring nearby parks and trails with her young family, hitting up a local farmer’s market, and also, tracking tornadoes with her keyboard and mouse. As the Project's full-time research meteorologist, Lesley is routinely checking radar imagery (and sometimes satellite imagery and lightning maps), and tornado-related hashtags on social media. She creates most of the Northern Tornadoes Project's tornado outlooks (daily during the peak season from June to August, and only as needed during the remaining months). The outlooks describe the risk of tornado formation (chance, likely or outbreak) based on meteorological observations and various weather model output and are intended to prepare the Tornado Damage Survey Team for possible action over the next several days. Lesley also creates event maps for the Team. The maps contain social media reports, radar-based storm tracks, ground survey observations, and sometimes, eyewitness accounts from locals. They also contain damage tracks observed with satellite imagery and flight plans for future high-resolution aerial imagery surveys. "I feel fortunate to be part of a group that is making sure that people are more aware of and better protected from tornadoes in Canada," she says.
Aaron Jaffe's Master's thesis on tornadoes was a series of high pressure situations - but think data, not deadlines. During a tornado, flying debris often shatters windows and breaks doors. Wind rushes in, and internal pressures push the roof and walls outwards. Outside, external pressures from the tornado pull the roof up and apart. Using model houses, wind tunnels, and computer simulations, Aaron's (BESc [Distinction] '17, Civil and Structural Engineering, Western University, MSc '20, Civil and Structural Engineering, Western University) research predicts internal pressures of houses when they are in the midst of tornadoes. His study, one of the most comprehensive in his field so far, is helping engineers and home-builders construct stronger, more resilient houses. "We can't stop tornadoes, but we can better predict their impacts, and design stronger houses to protect against them," he says. As a Northern Tornadoes Project full-time research engineer and member of the Tornado Damage Survey Team, Aaron conducts engineering analysis of damaged and undamaged houses, analyzes aerial surveys of severe weather events, and summarizes the Team's damage reports.
Joanne Kunkel (BSc [Hons] '12, Atmospheric Science and Certificate in Meteorology, York University, MSc '16, Atmospheric Science, York University) roams Canada, almost 500 kilometres high with her keyboard and mouse. The country sprawls across her computer screen, from The Prairies to Southern Ontario to New Brunswick. The Northern Tornadoes Project's satellite analysis lead studies daily satellite images, scanning for telltale signs left in the wake of tornadoes and other severe weather events - fallen trees, razed tracks, damaged crops, for example. She is also continuously scanning over the country, section by section, looking for historical tornadoes, and uses her meteorological skills to contribute to the daily tornado outlooks. Before heading out to the field, the Project's Tornado Damage Survey Team relies on Joanne's vital work and eye for detail to plan out survey routes and mark places of interest. As a meteorologist, she wishes people took tornado watches and warnings more seriously. Joanne's analysis will help researchers and meteorologists better understand tornado events. Joanne is starting a part-time PhD under Dr. John Hanesiak at University of Manitoba. She will examine atmospheric boundary layer variations across cropped and forested regions in Alberta's foothills, and investigate the utility of satellite products for the purpose of tornado damage path identification over croplands.
Sarah Stevenson (BSc [Hons] '15, Civil Engineering, University of Manitoba, MESc '17, Wind Engineering, Western University) is tearing apart houses for her PhD. With the click of a mouse, and some computer code, she buffets them with high winds, rams them through thunderstorms, swirls them around in tornadoes. By studying how severe wind events weaken the bones and joints of a house - connections between ground to floor, floor to wall, wall to roof (and everything in between), for example - Sarah's research is helping develop stronger, more resilient houses. Currently, Canada's building codes rarely take severe wind effects into account. With climate change potentially affecting severe weather patterns in the coming decades, Sarah's research will play a critical role in newer, improved building codes. She is also a member of the Northern Tornadoes Project's Tornado Damage Survey Team, where she investigates the devastating after-effects of tornadoes on people's homes. The field studies, in addition to site inspections of new houses under construction, often find their way into her computer models, making her findings more realistic and practical than anything being currently studied.
"Human impact in the wake of tornadoes and other severe weather events has always affected me," says Emilio Hong (BESc '15, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Western University). "That's why we do what we do - to prevent this from happening again." The PhD scholar and Northern Tornadoes Project part-time research engineer is also a member of the Tornado Damage Survey Team. Following severe weather events, Emilio helps to analyze images obtained from drone and aerial surveillance that are used to determine the extent of tree damage and classify events into tornadoes, or downbursts, for example. The catch - it currently needs to be done by eye. His solution - automate the procedure using computer modelling and artificial intelligence (AI) to drastically cut down analysis times. The AI program will also be able to scan drone or aerial photos of severe weather damage (tornado tracks, for example) in forests, and decide the type and severity of the event. The work will improve our knowledge on current risks and estimated effects of tornadoes. Emilio is also working to change how we evaluate tree damage after severe weather events, in order to make the current system more accurate, and standardize tree damage evaluation.
Ibrahim Ibrahim (BSc '12, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Alexandria University, MSc '17, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Western University) is building maps out of numbers. For his PhD, the former civil engineer is combining and analyzing decades of meteorological data from multiple sources such as radars, satellites, and wind observations. His hope - build a database for a map of North America that estimates downburst frequency anywhere in the continent, and their intensities. Currently, no such map exists. Critically, the comprehensive dataset will help civil engineers understand how downbursts affect buildings. "We have very good records for 'everyday' winds, but there is little data for downbursts," he says. As part of the Northern Tornadoes Project's Tornado Damage Survey Team, Ibrahim will be tracking - you guessed it - downbursts.
Chun-Chih (David) Wang has abundant experience conducting and analyzing numerical weather simulations. His doctorate studied the dynamics of mesoscale thermally driven circulations such mountain-plain winds and sea/lake breezes and the moist convection they initiate using field campaign observations (incl. surface station data, weather radar scans, satellite imageries, balloon soundings, etc.) and numerical modelling. As a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. John Hanesiak at the University of Manitoba, he will perform high-resolution numerical simulations of past significant Canadian tornado events, including those surveyed by NTP, and analyze the results alongside available weather observations to characterize the large-scale and mesoscale environments of these events. The findings will lead to an improved understanding of Canadian tornado climatology and mechanisms, with the potential to enhance tornado forecasting accuracy in Canada. David received his BSc in Meteorology from Penn State University in 2012, a MSc in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences from McGill University in 2014, and a PhD in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences from McGill University in 2019.
"Geographic Information Science (GIS) is an incredible data collection tool that helps elevate what engineers do," says Liz Sutherland (BSc [Hons] '16, Geographic Information Science, Western University). As the GIS Technical Specialist for the Northern Tornadoes Project (and Western Libraries Map and Data Centre), she is integral to correctly storing, cataloguing, and maintaining massive amounts of information and data from the Project's aerial, drone, satellite, and ground surveys. She also maintains geospatial datasets, delivers workshops, and consults with academics within Western University’s network. Prior to Liz's arrival at the Project, team members would conduct ground surveys, come back to the laboratory, pore over field data, and manually combine it with photographs, and aerial and drone surveys. Liz's Survey123 app lets team members leverage the power of GIS to capture field locations and gives them a form to enter all descriptive data. "Within hours, I can turn those data into maps through GIS shortly after it is uploaded," she says. "The team can see all field data and important statistics, such as the number of damaged trees or maximum wind speed assessments right away." Her work has saved the team valuable time by moving away from tackling individual data points to combining it under one platform and analyzing it immediately. Another of Liz's contributions - the Project's Open Data Site - is a pioneering example of a university-driven open data platform being utilized by severe weather researchers. The Site has helped build bridges between Project members and the general public, who can easily explore Canada's tornado data under a single user-friendly website. In both of Elizabeth's creations - the Survey123 app and Open Data Site - she uses GIS to connect location to information and helps users capture data and communicate research.
Research Project Partners
Dr. Jennifer Spinney’s collaboration with Northern Tornadoes Project provides essential social science research and anthropological expertise. She is an Assistant Professor with York University’s Disaster and Emergency Management Program and focuses her research on social interaction, risk and policy in the context of severe weather hazards and disasters. By drawing on qualitative research methods in her investigations, Spinney seeks to understand how people make meaning, assess and communicate risk, respond to uncertainty, and engage in protective action decision-making during tornadoes, floods and hurricanes. Dr. Spinney received an MA in Sociocultural Anthropology from Western University in 2010 and a PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology from Western University in 2019. Prior to joining York University in 2020, she was a post-doctoral scholar at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado - Boulder. Currently, Spinney is heading a sub-project for NTP that is centred on advancing the group’s understanding of residents’ social experiences during, and recovery following, the Angus, Ontario (2014) and Dunrobin, Ontario (2018) tornadoes.
Dr. Tim Newson's expertise in both soil and foundations helps understand how roots interact with the soil, a critical consideration when these fail. He is an Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering in Western University. He received his BDs in Civil and Structural Engineering from University of Wales in 1988 and a PhD in Geotechnical Engineering from University of Wales in 1991. His research interests and consulting activities include in-situ testing, constitutive modelling of clays, disposal of mine wastes, centrifuge and laboratory testing techniques, dynamic soil-structure interaction, contaminant movement through soils, offshore engineering and soils, fracture behaviour in clayey soils, and dynamic compaction of soils. The analysis and prediction of most engineering phenomena requires a mathematical description or 'model' of the behaviour. Due to the complexity of many processes, simplified interpretations of what is occurring must be made; this entails the model only including the salient features of the behaviour. Models are usually developed by comparison with SEM image of kaolin clay with polyacrylamide 'bridges' creating metastable structure laboratory experiments and field monitoring. Dr. Newson has extensive experience of research in experimental work (computerised triaxial testing, non-standard oedometer testing, the consolidation behaviour of soft soils and the measurement of small strains) and of field testing (including site investigation).
Dr. Lombardo studies the patterns of fallen trees and crops after tornado events. He uses statistical modelling and computer simulations to ‘fit’ tornado vortex models to different patterns and determine tornado characteristics including intensity. Dr. Lombardo is an Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He received his BSc in Civil Engineering from Tri-State University (now Trine) in 2002 and a PhD in Wind Science and Engineering from Texas Tech University in 2009.
Dr. Chris Petersen is developing methods to estimate tornado wind speeds based on fallen trees. Dr. Peterson is a Professor of Plant Biology at the University of Georgia. He received his BA in Biology & Environmental Science from Taylor University in 1985 and a PhD in Plant Community Ecology from Rutgers University in 1992. Dr. Peterson's research encompasses several areas related to wind damage to trees and forests: 1) patterns of tree and forest damage, at single-tree, stand, and landscape scales; 2) the patterns of regeneration after wind disturbance; 3) the impact of salvage logging after wind disturbance; 4) individual tree wind firmness; and 5) using tree and forest damage to infer meteorological characteristics of storms. His long-term goals in relation to wind disturbance research include addressing the impact of these events on carbon cycling at the stand and larger scales.
Crop and tree failures are made more complicated by the highly variable soil conditions in which they reside. Prof Mark Sterling brings expertise on tornado wind fields and the response and failures of crops under high wind speeds. Mark received his BEng in Civil Engineering from the University of Nottingham in 1994, a PhD in Hydraulic Engineering from University of Birmingham in 1998 and is currently the Beale Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Birmingham.
Dr. Richard “Ricky” Wood analyzes 3D data of the natural and built environment damaged by tornadoes. Three-dimensional computer models, collected from either overlapping image sequences or lidar scanners, allow for exceptionally high-resolution representations of structures, communities, trees, and crops. This allows Northern Tornadoes Project researchers to quantify tornado damage accurately and objectively. His research is centered on the structural characterization and damage quantification of civil infrastructure. This includes point cloud data-based feature mining, including lidar scanning and aerial or drone-based structure-from-motion, for structural response and damage quantities. Dr. Wood is an Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He received a MSc and PhD (2012) in Structural Engineering from University of California, San Diego.
Dr. Arn Womble is an internationally recognized expert in remote sensing for wind engineering applications. He is currently a Lead Research Engineer at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. His research interests include severe wind effects on structures, aerodynamics of structures, forensic wind engineering, and the use of remote-sensing technologies for windstorm damage assessment. Prior to joining IBHS, Dr. Womble was a member of the civil engineering at West Texas A&M University, where he founded the Wind Hazards Engineering Research Program and Remote Sensing Laboratory as a recipient of the National Science Foundation CAREER Award. He has also served as project manager for CPP Wind Engineering Consultants, adjunct faculty member for the Texas Tech University National Wind Institute, and founder of WindForce Associates Consultants. He received a MSc in Civil Engineering from Colorado State University and a PhD in Civil Engineering from Texas Tech University.
The Weather Network
NTP's partnership with Canada's The Weather Network (TWN/MM) gives the Project access to TWN/MM's vast collection of severe weather content as well as national reach for NTP's messaging. TWN/MM field reporters also cover a lot of ground across Canada while observing severe convective storms and their effects. In several cases in 2020, TWN/MM field reports provided essential event information that led to more accurate classification and rating. The partnership also makes every TWN/MM audience member a potential citizen scientist in the quest to document every Canadian tornado.
Instant Weather, Inc. was founded in 2013 with the goal of raising awareness about tornadoes and severe weather. It has since grown to serve more than one million passionate community members across Canada and the US. These members submit a significant number of tornado and wind damage reports, most of which are forwarded to the NTP and ECCC in order to help with alerting and verification. Under this partnership, NTP and IW will collaborate on the development of tornado detection and nowcasting tools.