Brace yourself: High winds expected to continue after powerful snow squall

·4 min read

Edmontonians are cleaning up after a snow squall brought powerful winds to the city Tuesday night, knocking out power to thousands of homes and creating whiteout conditions on local highways.

An Epcor spokesperson told CBC News that about 5,000 customers had lost power due to high winds Tuesday and repair crews were expected to work through the night.

As of Wednesday morning, about 200 customers remained in the dark in neighbourhoods across the city.

A wind warning remained in effect for the city and several surrounding communities.

Strong winds, with gusts near 90 km/h, are expected to continue through Wednesday afternoon.

Environment Canada is warning of possible damage to buildings and flying debris before the winds begin to weaken this evening.

After weeks of mild weather, the squall hit Tuesday night. The winds picked up around 8:30 p.m., ripping off shingles and downing trees.

The sudden, violent gusts of wind reached up to 90 km/h. Drivers were urged to avoid local highways as blasts of blowing snow created near zero visibility.

While some hunkered down, many Edmontonians put their face to the storm and took to social media. Some surveyed damage to their properties. Others watched the howling winds from behind rattling windows or from shaking balconies.

Tree branches broke. Trampolines were toppled.

One young hockey player used the wind to send him gently careening across the ice. Another took to a nearby parking lot to capture a ballet of shopping carts dancing across the icy pavement.

'Everything went black'

Mike Henkemans was at his mother's house in the Westmount neighbourhood when there was sickening crash outside that sent the house rattling.

"The wind was so crazy and loud and the snow was blowing sideways," Henkemans said. "Then everything went black."

A 14-metre tall spruce tree in the backyard had toppled, hitting the roof and a second storey balcony before crashing into a pergola and a barbecue before coming to rest on the ground floor deck.

The tree snapped the power lines and the live wires remained dangling.

"It just smashed everything," he said. "It was terrifying. It was really scary. I didn't know what was happening."

"The power lines are snapped and all over the garage. You can see them dangling."

Henkemans said he called Epcor, his insurance company and an arborist for help with the clean-up. A neighbour allowed them to run an extension cord over the property line so they could run a space heater as they waited for the power to be reconnected.

"It was a long night," Henkemans said.

Giselle Denis/Twitter
Giselle Denis/Twitter

Edmonton was not alone in experiencing the intense wind.

Wind warnings were in effect for much of the province, including the Edmonton region, Jasper, Whitecourt, Okotoks, Olds, Rocky Mountain House and Banff National Park.

Snow squall warnings were also issued for Edmonton, as well as other parts of central and northern Alberta including Ponoka County, Leduc County, Drayton Valley and Lloydminster. A snow squall is a brief but powerful storm characterized by strong winds and blowing snow.

'Like a bomb hit my house'

Giselle Denis was playing board games with her children when the lights went dark in her home south of Sherwood Park.

Moments later, with the wind howling, there was a loud crash.

"It sounded like a bomb hit my house," she said. "I have never heard something like that. It was so loud. "

The force of the wind had sent a tree toppling. A large branch had smashed through the window of a basement bedroom.

"The floor was just covered in glass. It broke the metal and wood frame of the window and the tree was like in the house," Denis said. "It's a full tree."

Denis expects insurance will cover the damage but it was a long sleepless night. She spent several hours cleaning up in the dark.

"It's hard to go to sleep after that and I think the adrenaline is still pumping through my body."

The damaged room used to serve as her son's bedroom but now stores her paintings. Her son's bedroom is next door. She feels thankful no one was hurt.

"One more inch to the left and it could have been disastrous," she said.

The Edmonton Police Service issued a traffic advisory around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday advising motorists to avoid a section Calgary Trail where three tractor-trailers rolled over as a result of strong winds. No injuries were reported in the rollovers, EPS said.

There are also numerous traffic advisories for other parts of the province affected by the wind and snow.