A village in northwestern Alberta is cleaning up after a strong thunderstorm that triggered a tornado warning swept through Friday night, uprooting trees, flattening crops and ripping roofs off homes.
Farmer Clint Polukoshko was out swathing in his creeping red fescue field just east of Hines Creek when he saw the storm roar into the area.
“There was a lot of thunder and lightning and the sky was really black to the north,” he told Global News from the farming community about about 500 kilometres northwest of Edmonton in the Peace River region.
“Then it just hit with a wall of rain and hail and lots of wind.”
A tornado warning was issued for the Fairview region on Friday night. The storm swept into the Hines Creek area around 9 p.m., according to Environment Canada, before moving southeast towards Fairview.
Polukoshko said the hail lasted probably 15 minutes, and was followed by another 20 or so minutes of heavy rain. He said his brother was checking crops in other fields when he called with different news.
“He phoned me to tell me that the roof blew off (the local hotel bar) so I ripped into town to check it out,” he said.
“There was probably 30 really big trees that had blown over right from the roots: some landed on cars, some landed up houses, blocking the road. Checked everything out in town and there were lots of sheds blown over.”
Polukoshko said he saw trampolines on the top of buildings, missing shingles, roofs missing from even more properties.
“A guy that works for us, his roof on his mobile home in town had blown off and landed on the neighbour’s house beside him.
“A lot of damage in town.”
When he arrived at the Hines Creek Hotel bar, RCMP from Fairview and firefighters with the local volunteer departments were already dealing with the situation.
“The roof had flown off and landed on the park nearby behind the bar, the splash park in the town park. It was sitting on top of the playground.”
Polukoshko estimates the village is home to about 500 people, but even more live in the surrounding rural area — and it seems, most everyone had the same idea he had: head into town and see what happened.
“And after the storm, there was probably like, 1,500 people in town.”
Kyle Fougere, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, told Global News the weather agency had received reports from the Hines Creek area of ping pong-sized hail, possible heavy street flooding, uprooted trees and damage to roofs.
The weather agency couldn’t confirm if a tornado touched down, saying that kind of damage could have been caused by a twister or straight-ling winds, but it will be investigating.
Polukoshko took photos of hail that appeared to be the size of ping pong balls. He said friends saw even larger hail the size of golf balls.
It wasn’t just the town that got hit — Polukoshko said his crops suffered too.
“We got a real significant hail storm. It’s probably wiped out a good 80 per cent of our canola crops.”
Polukoshko estimates 1,600 to 2,000 acres of his canola and another 1,500 acres of wheat were flattened.
“Can’t really tell it the damage too bad on the wheat yet, but it won’t be good,” he said, adding he’ll get a better sense of the damage once the sun comes up Saturday.
“You can tell on the canola though. And where the stems are broken off, the pods are broke off.
“The field was yellow before supper and then after supper it’s all green and fairly flat. It’s not a good sign.”
“We could’ve use the moisture – we just didn’t need the hail,” he said ruefully.
After the storm passed and Polukoshko had finished checking out the damage in town, he got right back to swathing his fescue, which in Canada is primarily grown in the Peace River region.
It was a sweltering day before the storm blew in: the Peace River region broke temperature records on Friday, with a temperature of 34.8 C. (The old record of 34.4 set in 1934, Environment Canada said.)
ATCO Electric said severe weather was causing power outages in the Fairview area and surrounding areas, including Hines Creek. As of midnight, Polukoshko said the power was still out in large area.
Enviroment Canada said the significant thunderstorm continued to track southeast throughout the evening, was still showing rotation and had potential to cause damage. The tornado warning ended around midnight, however.
Damaging winds, large hail and locally intense rainfall from the storm were possible, the national weather agency had said in its earlier warning.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney spoke with Global News, Saturday regarding the extreme weather and said there are relief funds available through the municipality, if needed. No requests have been made to his knowledge at this time.
“We’re much lower than the 10-year average in terms of flooding events, in terms of forest fires, and events of that nature,” said Kenney. “The prairies are always unpredictable weather-wise – we know that in Alberta. And I feel badly for the people that have been affected by that.
Tornado warnings are issued when imminent or occurring thunderstorms are likely to produce or are producing tornadoes.
If you spot one, Environment Canada you should go indoors to a room on the lowest floor, away from outside walls and windows, such as a basement, bathroom, stairwell or interior closet.
Leave mobile homes, vehicles, tents, trailers and other temporary or free-standing shelter, and move to a strong building if you can. As a last resort, lie in a low spot and protect your head from flying debris, the warning said.
The warning came as the Big Valley Jamboree in central Alberta had to temporarily put a pause on events Friday night because of a severe thunderstorm.