Tornado severely damages several homes amid day of violent Alberta storms

Mounties say several homes were severely damaged on Thursday as violent summer weather struck central and southern Alberta, spurring thunderstorm and tornado warnings.

Unsettled weather puts communities on alert

A tornado that touched down southeast of Sundre, Alta., severely damaged several properties in the area. (Submitted by Alberta RCMP)

Mounties say several homes were severely damaged on Thursday as violent summer weather struck central and southern Alberta, spurring thunderstorm and tornado warnings.

RCMP told CBC News Thursday evening that a tornado flattened one home and seriously damaged four others southeast of Sundre, at a rural location roughly 90 kilometres north of Calgary in Mountain View County.

Earlier in the day, RCMP told CBC News they thought between six and nine homes had been destroyed.

Police said one person suffered minor injuries, but no one was seriously hurt. 

A property southeast of Sundre, Alta., near Bergen was damaged by a tornado Thursday afternoon. (Submitted by Alberta RCMP)

Angela Aalbers, the reeve of Mountain View County, said she heard about "extensive damage" to several homes in the area. 

"The impact is just devastating to those people, I'm sure," said Aalbers.

"It was quite a scary event, not normal for this area."

Emergency crews in Mountain View County assisted RCMP on Thursday with trying to clear debris and trees from the roads. (Submitted by Alberta RCMP)

Aalbers said crews from the Sundre Fire Department and county peace officers were supporting RCMP in the area and helping clear trees and debris from the road.

Day of intense weather

In a tweet Thursday evening, Premier Jason Kenney wrote he is "deeply concerned by the families affected by this possible tornado. If you are in the direction of this storm, please take cover and be safe."

Earlier in the day, meteorologists were tracking the severe thunderstorm near Shantz, about 20 kilometres southeast of Sundre, which produced the tornado.

Just before 4 p.m. MT, Environment Canada said the storm was no longer producing a tornado.

But in a day of intense weather, the agency also issued tornado watches and warnings for Calgary and the surrounding region.

Storm clouds near Bergen, Alta., taken at 2:59 p.m. Thursday. (Supplied by Chris Ratzlaff )

As of 7 p.m., there were no tornado warnings or watches still in effect in the province.

The weather agency also had a number of severe thunderstorm warnings in place as meteorologists were tracking storms capable of producing high winds, Ping-Pong ball-sized hail and torrential rain.

Severe thunderstorms could also produce tornadoes, it said.

Environment Canada warned that very large hail could damage property, break windows, dent vehicles and cause serious injury.

Storm clouds near Bergen, Alta., taken at 3:25 p.m. Thursday. (Supplied by Chris Ratzlaff)

It also said very strong wind gusts could damage buildings, down trees and blow large vehicles off the road.

If people hear thunder, they should head indoors, the agency said, to avoid lightning strikes nearby.

Slower tornado season than usual

Kyle Brittain, the Alberta bureau chief for the Weather Network, said the province is getting into peak tornado season, which tends to run through the month of July.

He said Alberta typically averages about 15 tornadoes a year. So far, the province has probably experienced two, which is a little slower than expected, he said.

"Here in Alberta, we're very much dependent on local moisture sources," Brittain told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"So how much rain falls in June and July can really set up our season. And it looked like we were going to be having another drought year earlier in the year, but that completely changed around in June.

"Now we've got a lot of water in the ground."

He said that in the off-chance a tornado approaches, people should get to the lowest possible level they can in their home or a sturdy structure.

"Lowest level interior room with no windows is the safest place to be," he said, adding people should stay tuned to local media for updates on what's going on.

If someone finds themselves in a place like a mall or a school, he recommends finding a sturdy room with solid surrounding walls, like perhaps a bathroom.

Hail the size of marbles and larger pelted the southeast neighbourhood of Inglewood in Calgary around 5:30 p.m. on Thursday. (Christine Boyd/CBC)

What to do in case of a tornado

The Government of Canada's Hazards and Emergencies website advises the following to protect yourself in case of tornado:

If you're in a house:

  • Take shelter in the basement or a small interior ground floor room like a bathroom, closet or hallway.
  • If there's no basement, get under a heavy table or desk.
  • Always avoid windows, outside walls and doors.

If you're in an office or apartment building:

  • Get yourself to an inner hallway or room, preferably in the basement or ground floor.
  • Avoid the elevator.
  • Stay away from windows.

If you live on a farm:

  • The government says not to worry about livestock, which will hear and sense impending twisters. If your family is at risk, don't worry about livestock. If personal safety isn't an issue, the government advises, you may have time to open routes of escape for your livestock. It advises that you leave the area at a tangent from the expected path of the tornado.

If you are in a gymnasium, church or auditorium:

  • Big buildings with wide-span roofs may collapse if a twister hits so if you're in one of these buildings and can't leave, try to shelter under a table or desk.

Avoid vehicles and mobile homes:

  • The government says more than 50 per cent of all tornado deaths occur in mobile homes.
  • If you're driving and spot a tornado in the distance, go to the nearest solid shelter.
  • If there's no shelter, lie down in a ditch away from the vehicle or mobile home. Get as close to the ground as possible, protect your head and watch for flying debris.

With files from Tony Seskus, Jade Markus, Christine Boyd, Rick Donkers and Dominika Lirette