Winds wreaks havoc on Innsifail-area farmyards (video)

An Innisfail-area couple who tried to escape a tornado Thursday night ended up getting caught in a shed that collapsed on their car while they were still inside.

Innisfail-area farmer Don Curtice looks at his Mercedes car crushed beneath a pile of debris. Thursday night’s storm caused massive damage to much of Curtice’s property.

Innisfail-area farmer Don Curtice looks at his Mercedes car crushed beneath a pile of debris. Thursday night’s storm caused massive damage to much of Curtice’s property.



An Innisfail-area couple who tried to escape a tornado Thursday night ended up getting caught in a shed that collapsed on their car while they were still inside.

Monica Kaban and her husband Mike Burlein were not injured, but they were shaken by the experience.

Kaban and Burlein, who live about eight km southwest of Innisfail, drove to a nearby neighbour when the clouds started to open up.

“I said this thing is not moving. It’s circling. It’s coming here and it’s not looking good,” said Kaban on Friday morning.

When the couple got back to their property their house was still standing with minimal shingle damage. But their new workshop, just completed a week ago only a few metres from the house, was destroyed along with most of the riding facility — Rolling Hills Arena — that they operate.

“We have a basement (in the house) but it’s pretty open. I didn’t think it was a safe place to be in case it did go like that,” Kaban said pointing to the workshop that was ripped up and flattened by the tornado.

Their six horses and 30 head of cattle also survived the storm.

Fire, ambulance, police and search and rescuers from the Innisfail and Red Deer areas rushed out to the scene along Cottonwood Road (Township Road 352) near Range Road 21 (southwest of Innisfail) after hearing a report that a possible tornado had struck the area about 8:45 p.m.

Winds cut a swath through tracks of trees in the area, breaking them like toothpicks.

Dan Kulak, Environment Canada meteorologist, said Friday that likely three or four tornadoes touched down during Alberta’s first tornado storm of the season.

The first tornado landed near Bergen, southwest of Sundre between 4:30 and 5 p.m. Multiple tornadoes were reported 15 km southwest of Olds shortly before 6 p.m. Another hit the ground 15 km northwest of Olds between 8 and 9 p.m.

Tennis ball-sized hail was reported in the Olds area with the system that brought heavy rain and strong winds.

Kulak said the storm developed around 2 p.m. near Sundre where it stayed, growing stronger and stronger, and caused severe weather activity after about 4 p.m.

A chain of storms formed, with the main storm moving northeast around 7 p.m. It struck Red Deer at about 8:30 p.m. When it reached Edmonton after midnight it weakened to strong wind gusts.

Kulak said the “thunderstorm nursery” of Alberta extends west of Hinton, down along the Foothills to Rocky Mountain House, and towards Calgary. Storms can occur after a few days of warm weather.

“Generally this is typical-type weather for Alberta in this time of the year.

“As we move from warmer, muggy air to the cooler, and sometimes rainy air, we have these transitions where there is a lot of severe weather that occurs in the province.”

Alberta has an average of 12 tornadoes reported a year.

Kulak said Environment Canada relies on witnesses to report tornadoes.

“We can tell a storm is rotating but we need some eyewitnesses to ensure it’s actually rotating and has reached down to the ground. (Radar) just sees the larger storm structure and don’t see tornadoes directly.”

Don Curtice, who also lives in the Cottonwood Road area, had several sheds, trees and granaries knocked to the ground. He got an inside look at the tornado that struck his property.

“The sky became bright and sunny like this.” said Curtice in the sunshine on Friday morning, “Then it just went white. I think we were inside, right in the centre.”

It was like special effects in movies when alien ships land, he said.

Curtice was the neighbour Kaban and Burlein raced to in the storm. The shed that collapsed on the couple also contained Curtice’s car and truck.

Greg Conn, who lives near Red Deer River in the area, said his family watched the storm build for two hours and figured they saw three tornadoes touch down.

“The sky all around it and underneath it was clear as anything. You could see it so easily,” Conn said.

“It’s a funny feeling to know you’re in the path and you can get hit or missed within a half a mile or so.”

Bernie Smith said he heard the roar of the tornado — and it was three miles away.

“Mother nature is very vicious sometimes. But it’s fortunate nobody got hurt. The rest of this we can deal with,” said Smith who was helping clear the debris in Curtice’s yard.

Ric Henderson, Red Deer County emergency management co-ordinator, said storm damage stretched about three kms along Range Road 21, and further northwest to Range Road 22 where some trailers at Kelly’s Campground were damaged.

No injuries were reported, human or animal, and damage to homes was minor, he said.

“We’re really lucky,” Henderson said.

“I give credit to the folks in the residences. From what I heard they were watching the weather and took shelter when they needed to.”

Residents were also quick to check on their neighbours and bring out equipment to help in the cleanup, he said.

Cottonwood Road and Range Road 21 were cleared with heavy machinery and chain saws and open by 3 a.m. Power was being restored to the area on Friday.

Damage was also reported west of Ponoka where a large storage building was destroyed.

The storm missed Red Deer for the most part but a vehicle dealership on the north end did sustain hail damage to almost its entire fleet.

Tom Skinner, marketing director for Red Deer Motors, said that every one of their 250 vehicles suffered some form of damage, except for three Corvettes built with fiberglass. The dealership is located at 6720 Johnstone Drive.

“It makes your heart sink,” said Skinner.

He said no staff was on site when the storm hit. Hail damage is in the moderate range. He estimates about 60 to 80 dents on each hood.

“We’ve been in business seven-and-a-half years and we’ve never experienced a hail claim yet,” Skinner said.

The storm missed Red Deer for the most part but a vehicle dealership on the north end did sustain hail damage on Thursday to almost its entire fleet.

Tom Skinner, marketing director for Red Deer Motors, said that every one of their 250 vehicles suffered some form of damage, except for three Corvettes built with fiberglass. The dealership is located at 6720 Johnstone Drive.

“It makes your heart sink,” said Skinner.

He said no staff was on site when the storm hit. Hail damage is in the moderate range. He estimates about 60 to 80 dents on each hood.

“We’ve been in business seven-and-a-half years and we’ve never experienced a hail claim yet,” Skinner said.

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com

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