Just before twisters started touching down in southeastern Alberta, the region’s weather radar station became “non-operational,” says an area fire chief.
“We were pretty much glued to the Doppler radar (Tuesday) night until it went down,” said Cypress County Fire Chief Dennis Mann whose jurisdiction was under a tornado warning.
“What a bad time for it to go down.”
Environment Canada confirmed one tornado touched down Tuesday near Taber, Alta., while there were reports of three others around neighbouring communities. Damage to buildings and trees was reported but there were no indications of injuries.
The Schuler radar station — which covers the Medicine Hat area and southwestern Saskatchewan — stopped transmitting data just after 6 p.m. as the first tornado watches were being issued.
Radar imagery wasn’t restored until the early morning hours Wednesday, about an hour after the warnings were lifted.
“The radar was functioning and the interruption in transmission was due to a problem experienced by our telecommunications provider,” Environment Canada said in an emailed statement.
“The technical issues experienced were not due to the storm. We are working with our service provider as they look into the cause of this interruption.”
Environment Canada’s Doppler radar stations outside of Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon and Vernon, B.C., have all reported outages in the last month but Tuesday’s failure was the first to occur in the middle of a tornado warning.
Uwe Gramann, owner of Mountain Weather Services and one of the few independent, professionally registered Canadian meteorologists in the country, said the outage likely had officials worried.
“The radar is one of the primary tools to detect tornadoes and as such, it is extremely important tool for forecasters,” said Mr. Gramann, who worked for the federal agency for seven years.
He added failure of the Schuler radar would result in “people at Environment Canada scrambling. There are planned outages for maintenance but those are well announced far in advance.”
But just because the public can’t access the data, it doesn’t necessarily mean the federal weather agency isn’t receiving information, he said.
“For example, if webpages go down or external radar feeds go down that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Environment Canada feed is dead,” said Mr. Gramann.
The “non-operational” designation for the Schuler radar station was taken down from Environment Canada’s Weather Office website Wednesday afternoon.