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Flashback to the destructive 1987 Edmonton tornado

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Canada is not a country that often sees devastating tornadoes. However, one late-July day in 1987 shattered the illusion of safety and perception of severe weather for residents in Edmonton, Alberta.

Alberta had never seen a tornado of violent intensity up to the point of the mid 1980s. This all changed when a powerful low pressure system developed over British Columbia in final few days of July 1987. Everything culminated on Friday, July 31, 1987 when a strong cold front was poised to move through Alberta and bring dangerous thunderstorms with serious tornado potential.

July 31, 1987 is also known as “Black Friday” by Edmonton residents due to the tragic events of what was to come on that day.

Weatheradio, which is a Canadian weather radio network, broadcasts and interviews with the media stressed phrases such as “vicious” and “extremely strong and violent” to describe the possibility of how the storms may act on this day. Forecasters recognized this threat early in the day of July 31.

Just before 3 PM, a violent supercell would turn more northward and projected its path towards Edmonton, the capital city of Alberta. At 2:59 PM, the first sightings of a tornado were observed by weather spotters. This tornado quickly lifted and then touched back down shortly after 3 PM. Edmonton would be placed under a tornado warning at 3:04 PM.

The tornado had a multi-vortex appearance as it entered the southeastern portion of Edmonton. It produced F2 to F3 damage as it tracked along the eastern portions of Mill Woods. By the time the tornado reached the Refinery Row, it achieved F4 strength and would toss several large oil tanks, Heavy damage was also observed at Laidlaw and Byers Transport.

A slight weakening trend then occurred as the tornado was in between Baseline Road and North Saskatchewan River, but it still maintained F2 to F3 intensity through eastern parts of Clareview toward 4 PM. Heavy damage to several homes was then taking place in Kernohan, Bannerman, and Fraser neighborhoods.

Then, the Evergreen Mobile Home Park took a major hit with nearly 200 mobile homes destroyed. Unfortunately, 15 people were killed in this area with numerous injuries. Shortly after hitting the mobile park, the tornado dissipated. To also note, seven other tornadoes occurred in Alberta on July 31.

The Edmonton F4 tornado was sadly very destructive and became Canada’s second deadliest tornado on record with 27 fatalities. This tornado was on the ground for almost 90 minutes with a path length of 19.1 miles and was up to 0.81 miles wide. Damage cost estimates were more than 332.27 million Canadian dollars, which is equivalent to 687 million U.S. dollars in 2021.

This event became significant for the long term in regards to weather technology and alert systems in Canada as a whole. The “Alberta Emergency Alert” was developed and replaced “Emergency Public Warning System” to ensure that private and public broadcasts on radio, television and cable systems receive these alerts and warn more people. There was also the first implementation of the Doppler weather radar concept in Canada during the early 1990s in response to the Edmonton tornado.