Alberta’s storm season started with a vengeance last weekend after a mostly quiet May and June.
Central Alberta storm chasers Theresa (Tree) and Darlene (Dar) Tanner of #teamtanner, initially didn’t see a lot of action since the spring drought and all of the smoke from wildfires did not contribute the right ingredients for severe thunderstorms to develop.
But with above-average rainfall for this area in the last few weeks, all of that changed last the weekend.
A Severe Thunderstorm Warning was issued by Environment Canada in the Red Deer area on Friday night, and then again for Mountain View County on Saturday afternoon. Shortly after, a tornado ripped through the area between Didsbury and Carstairs, damaging about a dozen homes, flatting at least five of them, and causing minor injuries.
It was a close call for several farm families, bringing to mind the 2000 Pine Lake Tornado that caused 12 deaths.
With Saturday’s Severe Thunderstorm Warning alert, Theresa said Darlene headed out towards Three Hills to see if she could catch the tail end of the storm as it passed from Mountain View Country to Knee Hill County. Dark clouds were still evident, but the storm’s severity was much lessened by the time Darlene pulled out her camera.
More dramatic shots were obtained by #teamtanner on Friday evening in the Red Deer-Lacombe area, where a churning thunderhead was observed, as well as multiple lightning bolts striking farm fields.
Theresa said she and Darlene protect themselves by staying well back from funnel clouds that appear to be developing. The Tanners are also careful about not getting caught by the high winds, lightning and hail. “We try to stay ahead of the storm… we try to stay right on the edge of it, ” Darlene has explained.
Most photographs are taken from inside their car, with the window or door opened. “To stand right out there with our tripod would be… foolish,” Darlene has admitted.
The couple from Alix also plan an escape route away from a storm — just in case.
No severe thunderstorms are forecasted over the next few days. But Paul Silvestro, meteorologist for Environment Canada, cautioned to listen to weather alerts because tornadoes are not uncommon in this province over the summer months.
“Alberta averages 15 tornadoes a year,” said Silvestro, but most touch-down in fields, causing no damage or injuries.
He noted Saturday’s twister in Carstairs-Didsbury was actually the 13th tornado of this year, with most of the previous reports from Southern Alberta, including a cluster of twisters seen near Brooks.
If a tornado is coming your way — sometimes a heavy rumbling or whistling sound are prior warnings — citizens are advised to go into the basement or lowest part of their home (into a main floor closet, bathroom or hallway if you have no basement) and to stay away from windows or outside walls.
If driving and you can’t get to a solid home (mobile homes should be avoided as more than half of all tornado-related deaths happen in them), you are advised leave your vehicle/trailer and lay down flat in a ditch until the storm passes. Stay as close to the ground as possible, protect your head and watch for flying debris.
June weather in the Red Deer area was hotter and wetter than average. Silvestro said we received 142 mm of moisture, compared to an average of 94 for the month. The average of highs and lows for June was 15.1 C. compared to a June average of 13.7. It was the eighth warmest June since weather records were kept for the area, and the 16th wettest.