Tornado reports draw Environment Canada investigators to northern N.B.

Environment Canada investigators were in northern New Brunswick on Friday, taking a closer look at the damage left behind by Thursday's severe thunderstorm and at videos of what could be "tornadic activity."

'There could have been some embedded tornadoes', says meteorologist Claude Côté

A severe thunderstorm that hit northern New Brunswick on Thursday night toppled at least 15 power poles and knocked out power to more than 6,000 homes and businesses. (Raymonde Mallais/Facebook)

Environment Canada investigators are in northern New Brunswick today, taking a closer look at the damage left behind by Thursday's severe thunderstorm and at videos of what could be "tornadic activity."

Claude Côté, a warning preparedness meteorologist in New Brunswick, said Friday morning there are unconfirmed reports of tornadoes and according to specialists in Ontario, wind gusts may have reached 190 kilometres an hour.

"So this is comparable to hurricane-force winds or also of a ... tornado," he said.
A massive thunderstorm swept through northern New Brunswick Thursday night leaving a trail of damage in its wake. 0:54

Marie-Josée Chiasson, the volunteer fire chief in Miscou, was working at the Shippagan Dollar Store when the storm hit on Thursday between 8 and 9 p.m. 

"When it hit, let me tell you, it hit quite hard — there was hail hitting in the windows and suddenly — boom — the power went out," Chiasson told Information Morning Moncton.

"You could see the black sky. It was like, 'Oh gosh, that doesn't look too good.'" 

At its peak, the storm knocked out electricity to nearly 6,000 homes and businesses, and the strong winds toppled at least 15 power poles in the Lamèque, Shippagan and Caraquet areas, according to the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization.

Record-setting heat contributing factor

CBC meteorologist Brennan Allen said after looking on Thursday evening at the radar images leading up to the storm, he could see what is known as a "bow echo" heading toward the area.

Allen explained this usually indicates an intense thunderstorm with a strong down draft that brings winds from the middle of the atmosphere, 5,000 to 10,000 feet up, directly to the ground.

"If you bring those winds directly to the surface without giving them a chance to really weaken ... you can get very intense wind gusts," Allen said.

"And based on what I'm seeing that's likely what happened yesterday across northern New Brunswick."

Thursday saw record-breaking temperatures in many New Brunswick communities, said Côté, with a very hot and humid air mass sitting over the entire province.

"At the other end of the spectrum, the water temperature in the Bay of Chaleur, where the ice just melted ... is between 5 and 8 C," Cote said.

Allen said many people love the heat and humidity, there is a dangerous side to the unusual weather that normally wouldn't be seen until late July.

"When you produce this type of instability at this time of year — really mixing that hot and humid air with those really cool ocean temperatures near the Bay of Chaleur — you can get these types of thunderstorms."

Widespread damage

The severe thunderstorm activity was caused by what Côté called "super cells," which means there was "some rotation in the big cloud structure."

He explained that with tornadoes he would expect to see a very narrow path of destruction, usually 100 metres wide by one to five kilometres in length, however that is not the case according to reports.

"Last night we saw damage over a wide geographical area from Grande-Anse to Caraquet to Shippagan to Lamèque, to Miscou Island, so it's a large geographical area that was impacted," he said. "So this is not a signature of a tornado.

"Nevertheless there could have been some embedded tornadoes."​

with files from Information Morning Moncton