How an 'archer's bow' devastated a small section of Stewiacke
15-minute storm wrecked barn, toppled trees and downed power lines
A storm rumbling across Nova Scotia Wednesday suddenly flexed into an "archer's bow" and devastated a small section of Stewiacke.
Brandon Verboom, deputy chief of the Stewiacke Volunteer Fire Department, said he encountered the strange weather about 2:45 p.m.
"You can kind of tell when a thunderstorm is rolling in — the wind picks up and stuff. But all the sudden it just, without warning, down-poured the hardest you could imagine," he said Thursday. "And the winds were crazy. You could watch trees being broken. It only lasted 15 minutes."
But during those 15 minutes, a hard wind smashed a barn, lightning struck and broke a chimney, and wind downed trees and power lines. About 10 minutes later, according to Verboom, the sun returned and everything settled down.
Then his phone started ringing with calls for help. People reported arcing power lines and burning trees.
CN Rail called for help to get a tree off the train tracks. Lightning struck at least one house.
"The lightning must have struck the brick chimney," he said. "The whole top of the chimney was blown apart. The brick was scattered everywhere."
Volunteer firefighters rush to help
Verboom said despite the storm literally coming out of the clear blue sky in the middle of the workday, 15 volunteer firefighters dropped everything and rushed to help.
"We were able to handle everything ourselves, which is something to be proud of," he said.
While responding to one call, they saw a downed barn next door. The strange storm had crushed it and flung the pieces away.
"You can still see today the devastation of it. Pieces are scattered in the field," Verboom said. "It's devastating for that family."
Nobody was injured at that site, or anywhere else the potent storm hit.
"It seems to be a very narrow area," he said. "You can see leaves all over the road and branches, and then nothing."
Chester Gourley's barn was obliterated by the storm. His family has lived on the property for five generations.
Gourley said the storm approached from the southwest side of his barn, tearing it into shreds before making its way across an expansive green field and damaging some trees on the edge of the property.
It sent parts of the barn and its contents — including roof trusses, kayaks and wake boards — flying across the field.
Gourley said valuables were being stored in the barn, including expensive vehicles, much of which was damaged or destroyed.
Dozens of his friends rallied together on Thursday to help clean up the debris scattered across his field.
CBC meteorologist Ryan Snoddon said radar images shed light on what happened.
"The first thing that stands out to me is the 'bow echo' on the radar, which is when the line of storms becomes shaped like an archer's bow," he said.
"A bow echo often indicates damaging winds, where strong mid-level air is rushed to the ground in a downburst, forcing the squall line to 'bow out' as it accelerates forward."
He said that the wind can blow over 100 km/h as the microburst touches the ground and fans out.
Snoddon said a brief tornado can form on the leading edge of the bow echo, but he couldn't say for certain if that had caused the wreckage in Stewiacke.