November 29, 2011 — The City of Calgary is cleaning up after a fierce windstorm closed its downtown core Sunday.
Strong winds tore across Alberta and parts of western Saskatchewan on Sunday, with peak gusts reaching hurricane strength.
The result? Uprooted trees, debris flying through the air and significant property damage.
A strong pressure gradient bringing the damaging Chinook winds developed over southern Alberta. A peak wind gust of 144 km/h was recorded in Claresholm, while Lethbridge recorded a gust of 117 km/h. A 120 km/h wind gust is the equivalent of a Category One hurricane.
Winds were peaking at around 90 km/h in the city of Calgary. On Sunday afternoon, the downtown core was closed to all traffic and pedestrians because of flying debris and widespread damage. It was a similar situation in many residential areas.
“Put as many walls between you and the storm as possible. Seek shelter. Watch out for flying debris. Stay away from downed powerlines and trees that may fall,” said a public advisory on the Alberta Emergency Alert website.
All Calgary Transit downtown bus and train routes were halted for the afternoon. Several accidents were reported, and the hurricane-strength winds even flipped cars.
Crews worked around the clock to clean up the damage and transit services were being restored on Monday.
At the height of the storm on Sunday, the winds were knocking out power to thousands of customers. RCMP in the Claresholm area also advised all motorists to stay off the roads between Nanton and Fort McLeod.
“The winds are quite strong, major debris is coming off houses onto the highway, including shingles, wood pieces, siding, everything,“ said Constable Mark Belajack from Claresholm's RCMP on Sunday. “If [residents] do have large trees on their property, maybe just go to the neighbours house, because trees are falling on houses.”
Elsewhere, officials asked those who drive large vehicles to slow down and drive with extra care. Near Hinton, a bus carrying 30 passengers rolled over amid the bad weather.
At on point, about 20,000 people were left without power and crews are working to get everyone back online.
It's estimated that damage from the wicked windstorm will cost millions of dollars. But, it will be weeks before hard numbers are known.
Meanwhile, a grass fire began burning west of Lethbridge Sunday afternoon, scorching about 10 square kilometres before being brought under control. Some county residents west of the city were evacuated by RCMP.
Stay up to date on weather watches and warnings in your area by heading to the Alerts section of our website.
With files from the Calgary Sun