Deadly Manitoba tornado struck with little warning

A tornado that killed two western Manitoba teens struck in an instant, said a Manitoba Agriculture employee from Reston, Man.

The weather was scorching and extremely calm just before the tornado, which touched down near Pipestone, Man., around 8 p.m. Aug. 7.

“It burned all day, hot. I was looking at the (weather) radar and just didn’t see anything. It was about six o’clock… and I saw a few (small) clouds that were coming down from Moosomin (Sask) and (it) didn’t really look like anything at all,” said Scott Chalmers, who works for Manitoba Agriculture in Melita but lives in Reston.

“Then, maybe 7:30, we got the odd, little anvil cloud that was happening around Cromer (near the Saskatchewan border)…. Then, all of the sudden, your phone is going off the hook with the alert. You’ve got this mean, monster (tornado) going and it was still sunny. That was the weirdest part.”

Environment Canada issued a tornado warning for the area at 7:49 p.m.

Shayna Barnesky and Carter Tilbury, who were driving in a pick-up truck on Highway 83 south of Virden, died in the EF-2 tornado, which had wind speeds up to 190 km/h. The two were found deceased, having been pulled from the vehicle by the tornado, the Virden Empire-Advance reported.

The two, both 18, were from Melita, about 100 kilometres southwest of Brandon. In June, Barnesky graduated from high school in Melita. Tilbury graduated in 2019.

The tornado crossed Highway 83 near the community of Scarth, which is between Pipestone and Virden. Storm chasers said it was on the ground for about 10-15 minutes. The twister also flipped the vehicle of a 54-year-old man. He was taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

The storm severely damaged a farmyard at the intersection of Highway 83 and Road 50N, crushing grain bins and flattening trees. No one on the farm was injured.

Environment Canada sent out a storm warning around 6:30 p.m., but conditions looked fine until moments before the tornado, Chalmers said.

“It was really hot and stale…. I did see a feeder cloud coming in from the southeast. That can only happen for so long, until the front hits it,” he said. “I can see (that) if you were on the highway, you wouldn’t really pay attention that much. Because it wasn’t an ominous storm. It was just a snap storm.”

Other witnesses shared a similar account.

Employees with Rooke Farms, a business from Alexander, Man., that does custom harvesting, were silaging a field of peas and oats in the Pipestone area when the tornado developed. In an email to The Western Producer, they said the storm “came out of nowhere.”

Aaron Jayjack, a storm chaser who witnessed the tornado, said it was strange to watch because it wasn’t raining and there was “an eerie calm”, he told the CBC.

The Aug. 7 tornado was the first major twister in Manitoba since 2018, when a tornado with 280 km/h winds hit Alonsa, Man. A 77-year-old man died in the storm and the tornado lifted trailers off the ground, dumping them in Lake Manitoba.

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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