‘Tornado of the year’ sweeps through Man.

Professional storm chaser Greg Johnson described the July 27 tornado that stormed through southwestern Manitoba as a “monster” and one of the largest he has ever seen. Johnson, who hosts the CMT show Tornado Hunters, said the tornado was constantly changing into new shapes as it tracked from an area near Pierson to near Virden, about 95 kilometres north of Pierson. Environment Canada reported the tornado was on the ground for 2 ½ to three hours.  |  Greg Johnson photos

Twister rips up asphalt and tears through farmyards but no homes were destroyed and no one was injured

Driving 2,000 kilometres isn’t an ideal way to spend a weekend.

But for Greg Johnson, the long hours behind the wheel were worth it because he got a close-up look at what could be the “tornado of the year” in North America.

On July 25, Johnson, a storm chaser and host of Tornado Hunters on CMT, was watching for storms in Arizona near the Mexican border.

Weather models indicated that conditions were right for a super cell thunder storm and possibly tornadoes along the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border.

“We took two and a half days and basically drove from Mexico to Manitoba,” Johnson said.

“We got to the Manitoba-Sask-atchewan border roughly around 7 p.m. (July 27).”

Johnson’s timing was outstanding because a spectacular tornado touched down in the Pierson-Tiltson area 90 minutes later.

According to reports, the tornado stayed on the ground for 2.5 hours and was one of the most violent that Johnson has ever seen.

Of all the tornadoes he’s documented, Johnson ranked it in the top five and the most violent he’s ever seen in Canada.

“This, I’m going to guess, will end up being the tornado of the year in North America. It’s certainly the biggest one that’s been recorded so far (in 2015) and visually the most impressive,” he said.

“As far as Canadian tornadoes this would be, by far, my favorite…. The most impressive.”

The tornado might go down as the one of the most magnificent of 2015, but it caused minimal damage. It tore through a handful of farms in southwestern Manitoba, demolishing machine sheds, knocking over grain bins, rolling oil trucks and picking up a small chicken barn.

No homes were demolished and no people were injured.

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That’s the important news, but for tornado aficionados, the official ranking of this storm might be disappointing.

Scientists evaluate twisters based on damage to structures and then estimate the wind speed with a rating scale called the Enhanced Fujita (EF) system.

Environment Canada issued a preliminary rating of a high end EF2 for the Tilston tornado, which equates to wind speeds from 180 to 220 km/h.

David Sills, a severe weather specialist with Environment Canada in Ontario, said the rating system isn’t perfect. It’s difficult to evaluate a tornado’s strength if it touches down in a sparsely populated area.

In this case the twister mostly passed over farmland, so experts didn’t have an abundance of damage to evaluate.

“Sometimes it might (inflict) a glancing blow on a farm and we’ll only be able to use that to rate the tornado,” Sills said. “(So) the rating ends up being far below what the tornado probably was.”

Johnson said this twister was violent enough to rip up asphalt on a road, but that kind of damage isn’t part of the Enhanced Fujita system.

“Strong to violent tornadoes have been known to rip out asphalt,” Sills said. “In this case, I believe the asphalt was on a small bridge so that may have had an influence on the strength of the wind there and the quality of the asphalt.”

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Johnson will not forget the tornado, regardless of Environment Canada’s ranking,

He said it reached a width of one km, which is extremely wide for Canada.

“That’s very large for anywhere,” said Johnson, who in 2013 chased and filmed the widest tornado ever recorded, near El Reno, Oklahoma, which was 4.2 km across.

The tornado was also unique because it was on the ground for hours rather than minutes.

“It was what we refer to as a ‘long track’ tornado,” Johnson said.

“Less than one percent of tornadoes would be long-track tornadoes. Most last a few minutes or less.”

Johnson said the tornado was also visually fascinating.

“For about 15 minutes … it didn’t have a solid funnel all the way to the ground. What it did is have was several … fingers, or suction vortices, that dropped out of the bottom of the storm and (looked) like braids, as if you were braiding somebody’s hair.”

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