Storm clouds over Lake Huron file photo (submitted by Jacob Dickinson)Storm clouds over Lake Huron file photo (submitted by Jacob Dickinson)

Officials clarify weather warning confusion

City officials said it was better to be safe than sorry.

The community warning sirens and notices from Sarnia-Lambton Alerts went out just before 6:40 p.m. Saturday, stating there was a tornado warning for all of Sarnia-Lambton and for residents to take cover immediately.

Environment Canada Warning Preparedness Meteorologist Gerald Cheng said a tornado warning for the Upper Great Lakes-Southern Lake Huron had been issued, but it did not specify Sarnia-Lambton.

Cheng said tornado watches and warnings were also posted for areas east of Kincardine including Saugueen Shores and Owen Sound and then grabbed by the Alert Ready System, to get the message to people on the ground.

"But at the same time, we also hope that people would assess the weather around them because it could be a large area and thunderstorms can be very isolated," he said.

Deputy Fire Chief and Emergency Manager Dale Gartshore said upon receiving the alert, their emergency plan went into action, and overall, he's pleased the system worked the way it was supposed to.

"Upon receipt of the alert Sarnia police dispatch, in line with our established procedures for emergency management, issued an alert via Sarnia-Lambton Alerts, and our community notification sirens notified residents about the potential imminent threat of a tornado," said Gartshore. "Emergency management staff contacted the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre (PEOC) and determined that an all-clear could be issued for Sarnia which was then communicated via the city's website, Sarnia-Lambton Alerts and through the media."

Gartshore said the all clear was sent out at 8:15 p.m.

On social media it was apparent there was some confusion as to where the threat of a tornado actually was.

Point Edward Fire and Rescue posted on its Facebook page that it was also monitoring the situation, however there didn't appear to be an immediate threat.

Point Edward Fire and Rescue Facebook Page screenshot. Point Edward Fire and Rescue Facebook Page screenshot.

The St. Clair Township Fire Department had a similar post on its Facebook page.

St. Clair Township Fire Department Facebook Page screenshot. St. Clair Township Fire Department Facebook Page screenshot.

Gartshore said after reviewing the incident, the threat of a land based tornado in the city of Sarnia was minimal.

"I think the part that the residents should be happy about is that the system works," said Gartshore. "When an alert comes in and a warning needs to go out, it does so and it does so quickly, that's the best way we can protect the city of Sarnia. Tornadoes appear rapidly, and if one had materialized any delay could have offered consequences that were dire. So we understand the inconvenience of the alert, but ultimately to not issue an alert would be a gamble, and we don't gamble with the lives of our residents. It's not worth the roll of the dice."

He said improvements can always be made, including more specific warnings from Environment Canada and the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre (PEOC).

"I will be attending a severe weather symposium on Thursday and I believe that will give me the opportunity to speak directly to people who have the opportunity to change the system."

Meanwhile, the Northern Tornadoes Project (NTP) said Ontario is the new tornado capital of Canada.

NTP said since the project launched in 2017 out of London's Western University, it has found increased activity in Ontario knocking Saskatchewan out of the top spot.

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