Calgary (Rural Roots Canada) – In mid-July, severe storm season reaches its peak on the Canadian prairies. Already, hundreds of hail-related crop insurance claims have been filed, and several tornadoes have touched down across the prairies.

For a farmer, a single storm could wipe out weeks or months of hard work.

Cochrane, Alberta-based storm chaser Braydon Morisseau has seen firsthand the damage severe weather can cause.

In an interview with Rural Roots Canada,  Morisseau said there are things we can do to keep ourselves and our properties as safe as possible.

When severe weather approaches, Morisseau’s advice is to get into a sturdy building and into the basement.  In the absence of a basement, put as many walls between yourself and the outside as possible.

And he says your farmyard should be prepped for tornado safety as well.

“I think having an outbuilding (shop) with your farm equipment definitely would be great to keep that separate from the homestead. Just to put some distance between you.”

He says last year’s tornado in Didsbury was an example of how one of these storms can really throw equipment.

“There was a New Holland combine that was actually tossed from the property. They think up to 50 metres.”

He further adds another example.

“Hay bales, even with the Tilton tornado on July 27th, 2015 in Southwest Manitoba. In one of our videos, you can see soaking wet hay bales get lofted completely vertical. It’s definitely, I’d say that’s a big risk, too, is the hay bales. So we’re storing them away from the homestead as well.”

An EF4 Tornado touched down near Didsbury, AB on July 1, 2024. Photo Courtesy: Braydon Morisseau, Storm Chaser

On Canada Day in 2023, just over a year ago, an EF4 tornado touched down in central Alberta,  and ripped through a farmyard along Highway 2A between Didsbury and Beiseker.

Morisseau witnessed that tornado, in what turned out to be a case of being in the right place at the right time.

“Yeah, Didsbury. It was a pretty crazy day. We chased the day before up around Rocky Mountain house, and we ended up finishing that chase out by Red Deer. And we decided, well, let’s just stay the night in Red Deer. So we were well-rested, and we woke up really close to where we were targeting that day.”

RELATED: Hail Report: Crop Damage Claims Reach 1,500 for June 17-23

He says they weren’t originally targeting Didsbury. we were targeting the surface low itself just to the east, out by Stettler.

“It’s an area where you would see convergence or converging boundaries. And then the boundaries coming together to create an area where we thought storms were going to develop. And that area still looked good. But earlier in the day, we could see these storms already starting to build out by Limestone Mountain in the Sundre area, a terrain feature that really helps aid storms along the Alberta foothills. And the environment started to destabilize, and it looked really good out there. And a couple of friends of mine from Cochrane sent me pictures of the storm tower from the south.”

Morisseau says it was those that led to them deciding that they needed to get on this storm.

An EF4 Tornado touched down near Didsbury, AB on July 1, 2024. Photo Courtesy: Braydon Morisseau, Storm Chaser

“It looks like this storm could be riding this boundary or quasi-stationary boundary, strung by the low pressure center that had moved into the central area of the province. So we approach the storm from the QE2, and as we came over, we crested the edge of this little hill.”

He says they could see the initial funnel starting to touch down.

“So we phoned Environment Canada to let them know that there was a developing tornado and then from there, we chased the storm for about 30 minutes. It was on the ground. And we got 800 meters from it at the closest point during its life cycle.”

READ MORE: Eyes on the Sky: Tornado Season Approaches

The Didsbury tornado was rated EF4, making it the strongest Alberta tornado since the tragic Edmonton storm that killed 27 people  in 1987.

Chasing severe storms has been Morisseau’s passion since childhood.  He chases across the United States in the spring and western Canada in the summer.

So far in 2024, he has witnessed 15 tornadoes, and countless severe thunder and hail storms.   For Morriseau,  chasing isn’t just about the adrenaline, or capturing the perfect photo.

He says it’s about public safety.

“One of the biggest reasons we’re out there is because Environment Canada or the National Weather Service can only see so far above the surface using their radar.”

He says by being there, they can provide that ground truth.

“We do live updates from different social media platforms. We post a picture, a timestamp location, and we use different hashtags. So for different Prairie provinces here in Canada, we go #abstorm, #skstorm, or #mbstorm. Environment Canada monitors those hashtags to help get those warnings out to the public. So that’s our main focus, while we’re out there, to get those warnings out there and help public safety.”

Edmonton, July 31, 1987, F4, 27 fatalities, 300 injured

Pine Lake, Alberta, July 14, 2000, F3, 12 fatalities

Elie, Manitoba, June 22, 2007, F5, no fatalities

Scarth, Manitoba, August 7, 2020, EF3, two fatalities

Didsbury, Alberta, July 1, 2023, EF4, no fatalities

Those five tornadoes have come to define the severe weather season on the Canadian prairies.   Four of the five occurred in rural areas, exposing the weather-related vulnerabilities rural residents face throughout the severe season.