Tornado-type winds wreak havoc

The damage is still being tallied after an intense Alberta clipper rolled through the southern Prairies Jan. 13, toppling bins, destroying buildings and tossing irrigation pivots.

Record wind speed was recorded in southern Saskatchewan where the peak equaled an EF-1 on the Enhanced Fujita scale for rating tornadoes.

The Bratt’s Lake weather station, about 33 kilometres south of Regina, recorded wind speeds of 143 km-h, said Environment Canada meteorologist Terri Lang. That is a provincial record for a January wind storm.

In Alberta, a personal weather station in Taber recorded 145 km-h, also fitting into the EF-1 category. There were photographs of semi-trailer units blown off highways in the area.

South of Regina, Alex Getzlaf’s business at Corinne was severely damaged when the wind blew right through it. Tarpco Manufacturing provides tarps for semis and other equipment.

“That little breeze blew in my overhead door and when the overhead door popped it popped out the south wall, 60 feet of it,” he was able to joke two days later as insurance adjustors, engineers and contractors were on site.

This windbreak didn’t stand a chance as severe wind gusts blew through the Cuthbert family farm near Hughenden, Alta., Jan. 13, snapping several posts and planks. | Sterling Cuthbert photo

“We didn’t really lose anything from inventory, it’s just we’re heating half the province right now.”

He said within about 14 km of his building he had heard of four or five buildings down, all types of bins gone or dented, and a nearby Richardson Pioneer fabric shed damaged.

Grain elevators throughout the region took a beating. At Birsay, Pangman and Pense, parts of the main structures or metal bin annexes were ripped apart. Pense is a Viterra elevator slated for demolition.

Shingles, trees and any property that wasn’t nailed down were all vulnerable. Machine sheds collapsed on top of equipment.

Trucks at Red Fox Grain Inc. near Indian Head, Sask., were transformed Jan. 13-14 after a violent snowstorm clobbered much of the Prairies. | Nicole Derksen Englot photo

Irrigation pivots were particularly at risk. Near Avonlea, Sask., one farmer reportedly lost three pivots.

Greg Stamp, from Stamp Seeds at Enchant, Alta., said the corner arms on two of their pivots collapsed while on another the end broke off. A bin at the end of a row was also pushed in.

“Some people did fare worse with more pivots that are down or shops that collapsed,” he said.

Stamp said the damage seemed more widespread than other windstorms the region might experience in the summer.

The good thing is it isn’t summer and the pivots aren’t immediately needed, but he said there could be repair delays because many need work.

A new pivot costs about $160,000, while a corner arm costs about $30,000, he said. Some may be repairable but for others replacement will be required.

Stamp added he didn’t know if it was by luck or by design that some pivots were unaffected. For example, one of his was fine, parked one way, while a neighbour’s in the next field was parked facing a different direction.

“His is half upside down and the corner arm is collapsed,” Stamp said.

In additional to agricultural damage, history took a beating in Ogema, where the wind toppled a firewall built in 1915 after a prairie fire swept through the town.

A neighbour’s grain bin lies flattened in a field on the Raine farm near Wilcox, Sask., after a storm January 13. | Mike Raine photo

While the wind was the main story, rain and freezing rain before the wind and snowfall during it created treacherous blizzard conditions. People were stranded for hours in vehicles and power outages were widespread. Some Saskatchewan customers were without power for more than two days.

Lang said the Regina weather station also recorded a peak January wind gust at 126 km-h, as did Estevan at 126 km-h, and Eastend-Cypress at 111 km-h.

Other top speeds were Yellow Grass at 133 km-h, Weyburn 130 km-h, and both Elbow and Lucky Lake at 122 km-h.

Alberta January peak wind records were set in many communities as well, including Barnwell at 137 km-h, Onefour at 122 km-h and Blood Tribe, 119 km-h.

Lang said the winds were strong but below the speeds often seen during summer plow winds that blow more than 170 km-h at times.

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