Cracked windshields, smoking transformers and flattened gardens are among the damage from a thunderstorm that stomped through Central Alberta and chased fairgoers off the grounds at Westerner Days on Thursday.
In Red Deer, nervous eyes were focused on the skies shortly before 3 p.m., when Environment Canada issued a tornado watch in a region sweeping across from Eckville and Bowden, north to Ponoka and east to Stettler.
No twisters had been spotted by 4 p.m., but people within the storm’s path were reporting some wild action, including huge and heavy hail across the region.
Sandy Miller, a storm watcher who lives on an acreage west of Bowden, said she watched a small river flow through her yard and heard reports of destructive hail at various locations nearby.
“It was like a monsoon rain. I just came down and then there was hail. But Sundre got the hail more than I did — they got really big hail. I didn’t get any damage. I heard a guy got his windshield cracked north of Airdrie from the hail, a lady in Sundre, her garden was destroyed, all her flowers,” Miller said at about 3:30 p.m.
“They’re still building. Olds is going to get plummeted pretty quick here. I was watching the radar and they’ve got a big purple cloud coming in,” she said.
In Red Deer, crowds attending the second day of the Westerner Days fair headed for cover as a rain started to fall, accompanied by lightning strikes.
Taller rides on the midway were shut down as a precaution, said fair manager Jim White. He announced that people still outside should take cover as light hail began to fall. By 4 p.m., the rain had died down and people were starting to head back outside, said White.
Around Red Deer, lightning strikes caused brief power outages and one area just outside of the city took a bit longer to fix after a tree fell onto a power line.
Jim Jorgensen, manager of the Electric, Light and Power Department, said the first alarms came in at about 3:16. His crews received reports of lightning strikes in a variety of areas, including the area immediately south of 32nd Street and Gaetz Avenue as well as near the intersection of Kerry Wood and Taylor Drives.
The only lightning strike that seems to have caused any trouble was the 32nd Street strike, which crews were able to locate and repair fairly quickly, said Jorgensen.
The city also provides power across Hwy 2 to customers in the Fort Normandeau area, where crews needed more time to restore power after a tree fell across some power lines, said Jorgensen.
Environment Canada’s thunderstorm watch was ended just before 4 p.m., while the tornado watch remained in effect.
The warnings come just over 14 years after a severe tornado ravaged the Pine Lake area, killing 12 people.
Where there is potential for tornadoes, Environment Canada recommends people take cover inside a strong building on the lowest possible floor, away from outside walls and windows.
The watch issued on Thursday suggested that dime-to-nickel-size hail could hit the area along with strong wind gusts and heavy rain.
Forecasts issued for Red Deer today call for a sunny day with showers and a risk of thunderstorms in the afternoon and a daytime high of 21C.
An air quality statement issued on Wednesday remains in effect.
Environment Canada issued the statement for the Red Deer, Ponoka, Innisfail and Stettler areas after a smoky haze from northern fires moved into the region. The advisory noted poor air quality and reduced visibility in the area, and said people with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions should monitor their symptoms and consult a physician if they worsen.