Calgary drivers found themselves caught in a severe thunderstorm on Thursday, which prompted many to seek refuge under several overpasses in the city — a move being condemned by first responders.
On Thursday afternoon Environment Canada issued a tornado warning for the city as the storm rolled in, bringing with it heavy rain, wind gusts and hail.
Several videos and photos posted to social media following the storm showed a large backlog of vehicles parked under overpasses at Deerfoot Trail and 16 Avenue and Crowchild Trail and Shaganappi Trail.
Storm-chaser Dan Madden said he was headed west on Highway 1 when he noticed congested traffic under an overpass in the area. He said the traffic had blocked an ambulance that was responding to a call from passing.
“There were all these cars plugged up under the overpass there,” Madden said.
“It was brutal because there was an ambulance coming down the road, and he had to brake and maneuver around these people, which was pretty dangerous.”
Calgary EMS confirmed that some of its units were caught in traffic jams under overpasses in the city while responding to calls during the storm.
“During these weather situations, specifically the rain and hail, blocking any roadway is dangerous to all motorists, pedestrians and obviously that includes emergency responders,” EMS public education officer Adam Loria said.
“In many of the cases we are responding to, seconds count, and having to navigate through some kind of full barricade or blockade obviously adds seconds to that response.”
Calgary Police Service Acting Sgt. Kevin Montgomery said he understands drivers have an inclination to protect their vehicle during a hail storm. But he warned parking under an overpass could present a larger danger — especially with hail and heavy rain obstructing other drivers’ view.
“Sightline-wise, the bridges in Calgary, some of them are hard to see when you come around a bend,” Montgomery said. “So you could come up on this congestion rather quickly, as we see it in rush hour.
“Our standpoint is you have to be safe, think smart and just continue slowly with the flow of traffic.”
Montgomery said that blocking moving traffic is illegal, but could not provide how much of a fine a driver could net for doing so, especially under the circumstances of a storm.
Instead, CPS is recommending that drivers who are nervous about travelling in bad weather should exit the highway and find a safe location to stop, such as a side street or parking lot.
“When you get one person stopping, it leads to two people stopping. When two people stop, it continues on until we get a bit of a traffic congestion,” Montgomery said.
“When you get that traffic congestion, it can lead to an increased risk of a motor vehicle collision, which is what we don’t want in the end.”