30 years ago, an F4 tornado hit Edmonton and July 31 has been known to Edmontonians as “Black Friday” ever since.

Three decades later…we wouldn’t be able to prevent a tornado.  However, the day would play out drastically differently.

There was no Doppler radar in 1987.  There were no Twitter reports from storm chasers tracking the storm and there wasn’t a quick, easy way to send out a tornado alert.

Yet…even back then, forecasters could tell something was going to happen.

Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologist Brian Proctor was on the forecast desk July 30, 1987.  He, and everyone else working at weather office that summer vividly remember the week leading up to Black Friday.  

“We knew something was going to happen.  We knew it was going to be a busy day.  We just didn’t know how busy,” he said.

Proctor says severe weather forecasting relied heavily on pattern recognition in the mid to late 1980s.

Computer models were pretty crude and had a grid spacing that didn’t really allow for localized storm forecasting.

Today’s model grids can get as small as 2 to 10 kilometres.  

Jesse Wagar with ECCC adds that today’s forecasters also have far more tools that allow meteorologists to get a 3-dimensional picture of the storms.  The technological improvements will continue as Canada’s radar system gets an upgrade in the coming years with a move toward dual-polarity radars.  Instead of only “sweeping” horizontally, the new radars will also sweep vertically.

The other big change since 1987 is in communication technology.

Social media, websites and mobile apps allow for severe weather warnings to go out almost instantaneously.

In ’87, there would’ve been at least a 5-10 minute delay between issuing a warning and the alert being sent out.

Proctor says that lag time was even worse on Black Friday.  “A teletype line was hit and that delayed sending the message by 2 or 3 minutes.”

Today, severe weather alerts get sent out faster and reach more people.

Kyle Fougere with ECCC says that too will improve next year.

“The CRTC is planning to send our tornado warnings out to cell towers across Alberta.  So, when we pull the trigger on a warning, it will go out to people in the affected aream,” Fougere said.

Right now, the CTV Edmonton weather app (and other apps) will automatically alert you if there’s a watch or warning issue for your area.

But, you have to opt in for those notifications.

The National Weather Service in the United States already “pushes” alerts directly through cell towers to all phones in a Warning Zone.

That’s expected to start happening in Canada in 2018.

So, if an F4 tornado were to happen today, we couldn’t stop it.  But, we could alert you to the risk sooner and get more people out of harm’s way.