It hit the city a year ago today with alarming speed and widespread destruction in its wake.
The signs are still all over town of the power of last summer’s windstorm and its 111 km/h winds.
A row of trees lie toppled next to the trail behind Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School, waiting their turn to be cleared away. Giant stumps stick out of the grounds of Michener Centre, all that remains of trees that once towered 10 metres or more.
A year ago, Jenny Nelson was standing amid almost unimaginable wreckage. Almost all of her 31 greenhouses were completely destroyed or damaged so badly they needed to be completely rebuilt.
Now, the four-decade-old family business she runs with husband Graham just east of Red Deer is once again running at full speed, helped along by the warm spring.
“Business has been thriving this year so far with the warm weather,” she says, taking a break at Ever-Green Greenhouses.
Seven of the greenhouses on the west side of the property were completely destroyed. Over the winter, often in bone-chilling temperatures, the family and staff were able to rebuild other aluminum-framed, plastic-covered greenhouses.
“We had to tear them all down and rebuild them from scratch,” she says.
It meant working seven-day work weeks for months for the family, including their three children aged eight, 10 and 12, who threw themselves into the effort. They could not have done it without the help of the greenhouse staff, who worked tirelessly to help rebuild.
The Nelsons learned a lot from the wind storm. Unfortunately, one of the lessons was that they were under-insured and have not been able to replace all of their greenhouses yet.
But they also discovered how strong their family is when faced with adversity.
“It was a really, really hard time for our family,” she says.
“We just learned we were able to accomplish a lot.
“It’s kind of empowering in a way because we learned to overcome a lot over the years.”
They also found out how many friends they had and the depth of their generosity. Following the windstorm, friends gathered at three separate work bees to help clean up the wreckage so the family could begin rebuilding.
Trevor Poth, the city’s parks superintendent, said the city is still dealing with the storm’s repercussions.
“I think what Red Deer is doing right now is just adjusting to a new post-storm reality for our urban forest,” he said.
“The two windstorm events that happened last year had a very intense impact on both our natural areas and our formal tree plantings.”
Poth said the city lost about 600 of the landscape trees it plants along roadways.
“There are still a lot of tree stumps in place and still a lot of damage done to those trees. We’re just continuing to ensure that the trees that are remaining are safe and as maintained as we can make them.”
Poth will be taking a report to council this summer to get direction on how much work the city wants to undertake.
“Certainly, 600 tree stumps are well beyond our operating capacity to deal with in a single year so right now we’re looking at a multi-year strategy on how we can deal with that.”
City council has already approved more than $200,000 to replace trees around the city. But that includes trees already on the planning books for replacement, mostly because of pests and disease.
“Before the windstorm we had about a thousands trees on our list of trees that need to be replaced. Now. We’ve got about 1,600 trees on that same list. We’re still years and years away from having trees replaced.
“I think we’re just adjusting to a new reality where every tree that was in the ground may not end up being replaced. We’re just trying to balance the fiscal limitations with the reality of what our parks and open spaces now look like.”
The impact of the windstorm and any lessons learned will be incorporated into an urban forest management plan already in the works.
“In part, that urban forest management plan does look at ways that we can prevent more significant damage,” he says.
That can involve more pruning or ensuring new trees are in good shape and the right fit for the community.
Whether the windstorm is a sign of things to come is almost to predict.
“For us, it’s really difficult to absolutely identify if this is a new reality. My personal belief is that we have a new climate reality that we are going to be dealing with.”
That could mean more pest issues and even the introduction of tree species that can thrive in a more moderate climate. Nursery growers in Western Canada have been active in offering varieties of trees, such as maple, that were less common in the past.