Environment Canada says it was most likely a very strong dust devil that caused thousands of dollars of damage to a property in Chimney Valley Saturday evening.
“There can be what are called dust devils that are almost as strong as a weak tornado. They can create damage and Saturday would have been the day for a very unstable air mass between the first set of storms and the next ones in the region,” Environment Canada meteorologist Doug Lundquist explains.
At around 6:10 p.m., Karina Howell was sitting at her computer in the basement of her home in Chimney Valley, located near Highway 20, when she heard the sound of the wind picking up.
“I looked outside and saw trees lying over sideways. I stood up and heard a big sound, like thunder and whistling. I opened up the door and a piece of plywood came flying at me,” Howell says.
Something was swirling by and things were flying all over the place.
“Part of the garage roof landed on our walkway. Things were falling everywhere and then the thing headed up toward the mountain with a whole bunch of our stuff. I’m actually missing a couple of kennels.”
The wind grabbed kennels from behind the garage, chucking them around. It sucked the tail lights out of her truck and ripped the canopy off.
“It lifted a one-ton support beam and threw it. That’s how strong it was. At first I thought lightning had hit something in our yard and it was thunder, but the noise didn’t stop. Then when I went out there and things were flying around I realized what was going on.”
Leading up, the day had been warm and humid. Howell and her daughter Ashley had come inside to take a break, something Ashley rarely does.
“She wanted to bring her horse up to the garage and tie her up outside to go for a ride. Normally Ashley would have been outside; she’s never in the house. It could have been a lot worse if she had been out there,” Howell says.
Gerald Ryan lives across the road from the Howells and was painting a little woodshed he’s building.
“I could feel the wind blowing and I looked over and could see a mini dust storm and started to notice objects flying around. Then I realized they were small plastic kennels,” Ryan says.
The wind then went behind the garage and lifted the back roof from there and brought it forward.
“It was like something you see in the movies. You don’t normally see something like that around here. It lifted the roof and dropped it down and debris kept flying around,” he recalls, adding later when he was out helping pick things up they had been blown 60 to 100 feet away.
He can still hear the sound of whistling, blowing, howling and ripping of tin from the garage roof.
“It literally took the old two-by-10s, dried fir, and split them right up the middle,” Ryan says. “The dirt and debris had to be 20 feet in diameter. When I could see objects flying at the back before it lifted the roof off I could see the objects making ten, fifteen feet circles.”
Ryan has lived in Chimney Valley since 1984 and has never seen anything like it before, except for on television, he says.
He and the other neighbours did not experience any damage to their properties.
“It was gone as quick as it came. It never came toward our direction. When the wind finally stopped it headed northwest into the fields and then there was silence. It was that quick.”
Another neighbour, Sherry Pitman. also lives across the road.
She’s seen dust twirl in the wind many times, but Saturday’s event was different. There was something “weird” about that one.
“We were outside painting,” she recalls. “First I saw the dust twirling up on the road and then it started to whistle. I looked at it because it was whistling and all of a sudden it took off and got bigger. When it started to whistle I wondered what was wrong with our radio and then I realized the whistling sound was coming from the dust.”
Pitman watched as it went over to the Howell’s house and ripped the roof off the garage. It picked it up a little bit, went down, and then went back and picked it up again and tossed it all over the place.
“When it all happened you could see all the trees moving like crazy and then it left the roof, went off to the road, and was gone. It just kind of disappeared,” Pitman says.