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 recently completed his four-year term 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 (BESc [Distinction] '15, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Western University; PhD '20, Wind Engineering, Western University) is a full-time wind impacts researcher with NTP. His PhD research used full-scale experiments to better understand how wind interacts with air gaps in common types of residential cladding. His work is helping to 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." Apart from being a member of the rapid-response ground survey team, Connell is also responsible for researching and implementing new cutting-edge technology for NTP such as drone technology and LiDAR mapping.
Lesley Elliott (BSc [Hons] '04, Atmospheric Science, University of Alberta; MSc '06, Earth and Atmospheric Science, University of Alberta) is NTP's full-time research meteorologist. During tornado season, she can be found routinely checking radar data, satellite imagery and lightning maps, and tornado-related hashtags on social media. She creates most of NTP's tornado outlooks (daily during the peak season from June to August, and only as needed during the remaining months) intended to prepare the ground survey team for possible action. Lesley also produces event maps for the team that contain social media reports, radar-based storm tracks, ground survey observations, 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 (BESc [Distinction] '17, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Western University; MESc '20, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Western University) is a full-time wind impacts researcher with NTP and member of the rapid-response ground survey team. His Master's research used model houses, wind tunnels, and computer simulations to predict internal pressures of houses 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. Aaron conducts thorough analyses of damaged and undamaged houses, analyzes aerial surveys of damaging wind events, and summarizes the team's damage reports.
Francis Lavigne-Theriault has spent years chasing storms, developing his severe weather forecasting skills, and becoming an expert on communications and social media. "Storm chasing is the perfect way to put my knowledge of severe weather to the test and to further my understanding of the characteristics of supercell thunderstorms," he says. Now with the NTP, Francis (BA [Hons] '21, Geography and Certificate in GIS & Remote Sensing, York University) shares his passions with the team as a research assistant. From communicating with the media in both English and French to generating NTP outlooks for the ground survey teams; from analyzing historical satellite imagery to bringing climatologies up to date, Francis is the NTP’s ‘Jack of all trades’. When Francis isn't busy working with storms for NTP, he can often be found driving the back roads of Ontario, the Prairies or Tornado Alley in the United States looking for even more severe weather.
Joanne Kunkel (BSc [Hons] '12, Atmospheric Science and Certificate in Meteorology, York University; MSc '16, Atmospheric Science, York University) leads NTP's satellite analysis, scanning for tell-tale signs left in the wake of tornadoes and other damaging wind events including snapped or uprooted trees and damaged crops. She has also used satellite imagery to scan the country, section by section, looking for historical 'forgotten' tornadoes. Joanne is a part-time research meteorologist with NTP - using her meteorological skills to contribute to the daily tornado outlooks - and a part-time PhD candidate under Dr. John Hanesiak at the University of Manitoba - conducting research that will improve our understanding of Canadian tornadoes and other severe weather.
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 can buffet them with the swirling winds of a tornado. 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. She is also a member of NTP's ground 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; MESc '17, Wind Engineering, Western University). "That's why we do what we do - to prevent this from happening again." The PhD scholar and part-time NTP wind impacts researcher is also a member of the ground survey team. Following severe weather events, Emilio helps to analyze images obtained from drone and aerial surveillance and looks for ways to use computer modelling and artificial intelligence to drastically cut down analysis times. The work aims to change how we evaluate tree damage after severe weather events, making the process more accurate and standardizing tree damage evaluation.
Ibrahim Ibrahim (BSc '12, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Alexandria University; MESc '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 strong large-scale winds, but there is little data for downbursts," he says. As part of the NTP's ground survey team, Ibrahim will be tracking - you guessed it - downbursts.
Dr. Chun-Chih (David) Wang (BSc ‘12, Meteorology, Penn State University; MSc ‘14, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences; McGill University, PhD ‘19, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, McGill University) has abundant experience conducting and analyzing numerical weather simulations. Now as a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. John Hanesiak at the University of Manitoba, he will take on two main tasks: lead an NTP rapid-response ground survey team based in Manitoba, and perform high-resolution numerical simulations of past significant Canadian tornado events, including those surveyed by NTP. The findings will lead to an improved understanding of Canadian tornado climatology and mechanisms, with the potential to enhance tornado forecasting accuracy in Canada.
"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 lead GIS technical specialist for NTP (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. NTP's Open Data Site, created by Liz, is a pioneering example of a university-driven open data platform. The portal has helped build bridges between NTP and users of NTP data - including the general public - who can easily explore Canada's tornado data using a single user-friendly website.
Jordan Fuller (BA, ’17, Environment & Health, Western University; MA, ’19, Geography, Western University; Graduate Certificate, ’20, Geographic Information Science, Fanshawe College), a GIS technical specialist for NTP (and Western Libraries Map and Data Centre), is integral in helping to correctly store, catalogue, and maintain massive amounts of information and data from the Project's aerial, drone, satellite, and ground surveys. He also assists in maintaining geospatial datasets, delivers workshops, and consults with academics within Western University’s network. Jordan’s work on NTP focuses around creating the orthomosaics for satellite, drone, and aerial imagery, building Event Summary Map Apps and radar product viewers, archiving of NTP data, and helping to maintain the Open Data Site – which is integral in connecting the project with the public.
Research Project Partners
Dr. Jennifer Spinney’s collaboration with NTP 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 NTP researchers 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. 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, including those documented by NTP. 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. And all are important factors for NTP.
Crop and tree failures are made more complicated by the highly variable soil conditions in which they reside. Prof Mark Sterling brings to NTP 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 NTP 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.
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.
Catastrophe Indices and Quantification
CatIQ delivers detailed analytical and meteorological information on Canadian natural and man-made catastrophes. Through its online subscription-based platform, CatIQ combines comprehensive insured loss and exposure indices and other related information to better serve the needs of the insurance / reinsurance / ILS industries, public sector and other stakeholders. CatIQ was established in 2014 with the support of the overwhelming majority of the Canadian insurance and reinsurance industry and is widely recognized as the most reliable source of catastrophe loss information in Canada.