Cleanup efforts are underway after rare funnel cloud occurred near the University of British Columbia, and meteorologists are warning that another powerful storm is on the way.
A massive waterspout was spotted near Vancouver International Airport around 5:30 p.m. Saturday, and moved north in the Strait of Georgia to the edge of UBC before dissipating. The incident prompted Environment Canada to issue a rare tornado watch for the region.
On Sunday, Environment Canada said further investigation was required to determine whether a tornado occurred at the time of landfall, and to assess its strength.
“I can confirm it was basically we had a cold, unstable flow and in that was embedded some fairly convective cells and this one formed into a supercell, which spawned a tornadic water spout — and that means it’s basically a tornado that formed over the water,” Environment Canada Meteorologist Mike Gismondi said.
“We’re not sure at this point whether or not at the time it moved on land, whether it was a tornado — we’re sending a couple of people out to take some photos and try and do an assessment of the damage to to confirm whether or not there was a tornado when it moved on to the land.”
Gismondi described the incident as “extremely rare,” noting that smaller waterspouts are common over the Strait of Georgia, but nothing this strong or long-lasting.
Strong winds from the system uprooted trees and sent branches flying in the UBC area Saturday evening, even damaging some vehicles.
Dozens of residents of the University Endowment Lands woke up Sunday morning to discover they were still without power.
TransLink said University Boulevard, one of the key routes to UBC, was closed to all traffic and that the number 004, 014 and 099 buses were all being diverted through West 16th Avenue and Chancellor Boulevard.
“Our crews are working hard to restore service as they wait for the City of Vancouver to clear the large number of fallen trees,” TransLink said in a media release.
“We have been advised, this could take several days, until regular access is opened to traffic on this route.”
Gismondi said it could be several days to a week before Environment Canada will be able to say more about the incident with certainty, and that data will be assessed by tornado experts in the prairies.
However, he said if the event is confirmed to be a tornado, it would likely be of “F0” strength, the weakest category.
He added that while it is difficult to attribute any individual extreme weather event to climate change, the recent string of incidents was noteworthy.
“This year, we’ve seen the heat dome and now this. And then we also had the deepest low (pressure system) off the Northwest Pacific ever recorded,” he said.
“You know, all in the same year certainly seems to be trending towards a pattern.”
More strong winds in forecast
While another waterspout appears unlikely, Environment Canada issued special weather statements for most of the South and Central Coast warning of strong winds on Monday.
The alerts stretch from Metro Vancouver to Haida Gwaii, with the exception of central Vancouver Island. Environment Canada is warning of strong southeast winds of up to 110 km/h, except for the inner South Coast waters, where they are forecast to be up to 80 km/h.
“A rapidly deepening weather system will generate strong southeast winds over the west coast of Vancouver Island, Central Coast and Haida Gwaii beginning Monday evening,” Environment Canada said.
“The southeast winds will quickly progress into the inner south coast waters. The weather system will remain very intense Tuesday and these blustery conditions are expected to continue.”
Environment Canada said the exact track and strength of the storm systems remains uncertain, and urged people to monitor local media for updates.