PONOKA — There were some tense moments among a large crowd at an annual stampede in Ponoka on Thursday night as a huge, swirling twister hovered near the scene for an uncomfortable length of time.
Environment Canada issued a tornado warning for Ponoka, and the nearby community of Maskwacis, though it was later downgraded to a severe thunderstorm warning.
Social media was deluged with photos and videos of the funnel cloud, including one that showed cowboys at the Ponoka Stampede watching the cloud while their horses wandered calmly nearby.
Fortunately, Stampede spokesman Blair Vold said the system went around the packed grandstand, so officials didn’t feel it was in their best interest to try to evacuate the site.
Residents in one neighbourhood within the town weren’t so fortunate — witnesses said four or five houses appeared to have sustained serious damage in the storm.
Kevin Walcheske said his sister’s house a block away from his had the back and the sun room ripped off.
“Windows are all smashed out, a trampoline is up in the trees, and there’s trees through vehicles,” he described. “All of her stuff in the back yard is just destroyed.”
Another neighbour lost the side of his house members of the fire department were up on ladders Thursday night taping it off.
Walcheske said as far as he knows, there were no injuries.
“Her kids were home, but she phoned and told them to go downstairs,” he said of his sister. “She was on her way home, but by the time she got there the damage was done.”
He said when the storm came in sounding like a freight train, he and his four-year-old son scurried downstairs.
“It started off as a funnel, and then it just went down, and back up, and down, and back up,” he said. “It was pretty scary. It was a big, bad, ugly cloud.”
Walcheske said he doesn’t think any of the houses will be a total loss: “Not flattened, just cosmetic damage and a lot of debris floating about.”