Displaced bales, crushed crops and chunks of metal scatter fields in the southwest as the area recovers from one of Manitoba’s largest tornadoes in recent years.
A low-pressure system that moved in from Montana sparked the extreme weather, which also doused the Virden area with nearly 75 mm of rain. Quarter-sized hail was also reported in the Pierson region.
“Debris is being reported from Tilston, all the way to Virden. According to imagery and a number of reports we received, the tornado was on the ground for at least 2-1/2 hours, maybe even three. This is extraordinary,” said Natalie Hassel, warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada. “Tornadoes are generally only on the ground for a few minutes so this was quite the active system.”
No recovery time
Area residents were still reeling from the last bout of dramatic weather when the twister ripped through the area.
“We still have water in our basement from the last storm we had so we had to sit on the basement stairwell when it started to look really bad,” said Anne Raynor, owner of a farm that was severely damaged in the storm. “You see storms all the time in the paper or on TV but you never think it’s going to come right through your house.”
Raynor and her husband, Fred were visibly distraught as they looked over the devastated property they had built over the past 50 years.
“You spend your whole life building this and just that quickly it is all gone. But then you remember that you could be gone too,” said Anne. “We are very lucky.”
Anne was born and raised on the property, located just east of Tilston. The couple has farmed on the property for a number of years while raising their six children, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
These days the couple’s farming consists of sheep, cattle and chickens, while renting cropland to their son-in-law.
“There is a strip about a quarter-mile wide in my son-in-law’s cornfield that looks as if someone cut it bare,” said Anne. “I had 27 cattle in the corral and after the storm the corral was completely gone. The cattle were all over the yard. There is one calf that seems to be limping slightly but other than that they are all accounted for.”
A few sheep were also injured but the biggest loss was the coop that housed 300 chickens.
“There were a bunch of dead chickens laying all over the ground. The kids did pick up about 40 that were half-alive and I have about 15 that are living, but I am not sure if they will survive,” said Anne.
A high-end EF-2
Environment Canada crews were on the ground early on Tuesday to begin surveying the tornado’s path to determine the severity of the storm.
“We do know that a lot of farm buildings have been damaged on the path between Tilston and north of Virden. We have also seen some pavement that has been ripped up in that same area but I don’t have more details on that right now but those are the things we are looking to investigate,” said Hassel.
Since that time Environment Canada rated the twister a high-end EF-2, on the EF-1 to EF-5 scale. Winds were measured between 180 and 220 km an hour and damage was considerable, including torn off roofs, snapped trees and damaged cropland.
No injuries have been reported and most damage was contained to the Raynor property as well as a neighbouring resident.
“It picked the big shed right up and took it off the top of the machinery and dropped it again. It is wild what these storms can do,” said Fred. “The bright side is that nobody got hurt. But, it is just weird how things can just disappear. I have never seen anything like this.”
More than a dozen large trees were brought down at the Raynor residence, with six landing on the couple’s home.
“Some of the tin on the siding has bent and we will have to check to make sure none of the framing is cracked. A few people have said that the weight and the shelter of the trees really protected the house,” Anne said.
A lack of power
A number of communities within the southwest were without power as the storm removed miles of hydro cables and toppled a number of poles.
“Manitoba Hydro has done an amazing job in getting here and trying to get power back to us as quickly as possible,” Fred said. “It has put in two miles of powerline just near us.”
He added that community support has been a saving grace, as more than 45 people showed up the morning after the storm to help take down trees and begin the process of rebuilding.
“Everybody has been unbelievable in offering support. We have had people stop in from all over. The response has been amazing. Things like that mean a lot and make this whole thing more bearable,” said Fred.
Keystone Agriculture Producers’ District 1 representative, Bill Campbell said that recent extreme weather events seem to be fairly isolated with damage varying pretty dramatically from field to field.
“We managed to miss the storm on Monday night but we did get one through our area on Sunday night,” said Campbell, who farms near Minto. “Around here there have been some buildings lifted and bins knocked over, roofs off of cattle sheds and things like that. These storms have been pretty spotty and even the rains have been spotty.”
Campbell says most of the damage in his area has been caused by hail.
“I know my wheat and barley have some damage and the oats will have some damage as well. But, the canola seems to have handled it a little bit better and as far as the soybeans, we have lost a few leaves but I am hopeful they will rebound pretty well.”
Manitoba Agricultural Services Corp. said July 30 there had been 380 claims across all weather events since July 27, with most being related to rain or hail damage.
So far, MASC has received 1,500 claims this year, slightly below average.