Saturday night storm slams Kitchener

In All, News by Linda Givetash

This piece was also featured in: Waterloo Region Record
Published: July 29, 2013 | [ web ]

KITCHENER —

Residents were cleaning up downed trees for the second time in eight days after a sudden, powerful storm hit some neighbourhood Saturday night.

A series of thunderstorms passed through the region late Saturday night but one storm cell in particular caused a downburst over an isolated area of the city just before midnight.

“It’s cold air sinking down very quickly out of a thunderstorm and it’s full of rain and when it slams into the ground … it’s strong enough to bring down some fairly large trees,” explained Rob Kuhn, meteorologist with Environment Canada.

Straight line winds gusting to about 100 kilometres per hour lifted shingles off rooftops, took down tree limbs and knocked out power.

“The trees in north-central Kitchener had already been compromised by the storm from a week ago so this one just finished them off,” Kuhn said.

No warning was issued by Environment Canada prior to the event because the storm gained intensity very quickly and was equally as short-lived.

“Most parts of Kitchener-Waterloo got some thunder, some heavy rain and that was all,” Kuhn said. “This was an isolated (storm) that happened to become briefly severe over the city.”

About 6,800 customers went the night without power. Electricity was restored by 7:30 a.m. for most customers, with the remainder restored throughout Sunday.

The majority of outages occurred in clustered areas north of Victoria Street South east of Belmont Avenue and around Wellington and Duke Streets.

“It was a very, very specific area,” said Dave Schneider, electrical distribution operator for Kitchener-Wilmot Hydro.

Schneider, who has worked for the hydro company for more than 20 years, said the ice storm last winter and the thunderstorm a week ago were the worst he’s ever seen. But Saturday’s storm was still peculiar in its own way.

“We plotted where all the problems were and it was almost in a dead-straight line,” he said.

Many residents who witnessed the sudden burst of the storm thought it was a tornado.

On Cherry Street, between Strange and Walnut streets, high winds snapped branches and knocked down old but healthy trees causing damage to property.

“My fence is missing. I’ve got 100-year-old walnut trees and maple trees down in the backyard … roof damage, windows broken,” said Linda Axman while cleaning up downed trees in her backyard Sunday morning.

“The whole house literally shook for 30 seconds, it was like a train went through it,” she said.

Sheila Ogg, a cousin visiting Axman from Michigan, said she had experienced an earthquake while vacationing in Hawaii, but the storm that hit sometime after 11 p.m. Saturday did not compare.

“If I had been standing up I would have been thrown to the floor,” she said.

“I thought it was possibly then a tornado,” Ogg added about hearing the winds at the time of the storm.

While damage to Axman’s house was minimal, a homeowner on Wellington Street was not as lucky.

Christine Filipowicz said she had just closed the windows to keep the rain out of her bedroom when a century-old tree fell onto her house.

“I just had finished closing the window … and I heard a big, big bang,” she said as the tree smashed a south-facing window and broke through the roof. “There is a finished attic there that we’ll have to have redone, but no one was hurt. I could have been right there if it happened two seconds before.”

Despite the damage in the Cherry Street and Wellington Street neighbourhoods, nearby streets such as Park, Belmont and King exhibited minimal to no damage.

Some downed branches in neighbouring areas appeared to be left over debris from the severe thunderstorm that hit the region merely eight days ago.

“I was seeing some damage still from (the last storm) … you could tell because the leaves on those trees were brown or turning brown,” Kuhn said of his investigation Sunday.

Although two severe storms have hit the region in such a short period of time, Kuhn said it isn’t yet a signal that more storms should be expected this summer.

“There’s no guarantee that we won’t get another one but until this month we were very quiet here, summer thunderstorm-wise,” he said. “The rest of the summer here could be very quiet.”

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Linda Givetash

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Linda Givetash is a Canadian-South African freelance journalist based in Vancouver, B.C. Her work has appeared in print, digital and broadcast media outlets around the globe.