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One year on, Calgarians look back at devastating windstorm

Staff writers
November 27, 2012 — A year after powerful winds lashed southern Alberta, The Weather Network's Kelsey McEwen spoke with the City of Calgary's deputy fire chief about how firefighters coped.

Calgarians had a lot of debris to clean up after the winds subsided.
Calgarians had a lot of debris to clean up after the winds subsided.

On November 27, 2011, it was all hands on deck at the Calgary Fire Department.

Severe winds, peaking at 149 km/h at higher elevations and perhaps around 50 km/h on the ground, lashed the city.

At one point, the fire department's full complement of 90 available units were responding to calls during the storm.

"Falling trees on the roadways, falling trees on power lines, falling trees on buildings," Deputy Chief Len MacCharles recalls. "In addition to glass breaking in buildings from flying debris from other buildings downtown. It was quite a day."

As the winds picked up, the city activated its municipal emergency plan, and at around 2 p.m. that day, pedestrian and vehicle traffic, as well as transit including the city's light rail, were restricted from the city's downtown core until just before midnight.

"We had to shut it all down, just to keep people off the streets so they wouldn't be hit from either flying glass or debris blowing off of buildings," MacCharles says.

The deputy chief says the sheer volume of calls coming in meant the fire department had to adjust how it handled them all.

"On that day, it certainly challenged us to respond in such a way that we would send one unit to investigate a call, unless it came in as a serious confirmed serious event, like a fire," he says. "So that way we could attend all the calls."

The winds forced the shut-down of parts of Fish Creek Provincial Park. The Calgary Zoo cancelled its programming.

Fortunately, aside from one firefighter who suffered minor injuries due to falling glass, no one was seriously hurt in the city of Calgary.

But the winds were gusting at a time when a grass fire was burning in the Lethbridge area, forcing the evacuation of more than 100 people.

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