Thursday, September 27, 2018

A Tornado And No Flying Cow

That title is a reference to this scene from Twister.

Last Friday we had a rarity in terms of weather. Late in the afternoon, a tornado swept through the area, doing its worst damage in the rural community of Dunrobin west of the urban core, and across the river in Gatineau. It was one of three tornadoes to touch down in the Capital area within a short space of time, of a total of six that touched down from the same system. I came home early that evening, getting in shortly before the rain started. The power went out around six PM, and the rain intensified, along with high wind. I had no idea there had been a tornado, but stayed inside while the rain was falling. When it had cleared off, the power was still out. I decided to go for a walk. It turned out that the electricity was out for a substantial part of the cities on both sides of the river- with a full outage starting two blocks of my place with everything west of that (power came back on at home just over twenty four hours later) and hit and run spots where buildings were out east and south of there. I would see low lighting in office lobbies where security guards were posted, knowing that those lobbies were usually more brightly lit, so the back up generators gave those buildings some light, but not a lot. In apartment buildings, I noticed candle lights at windows in the darkness; back up generators might light up corridors, but not individual apartments. You quickly forget living in the city how dark the night really gets. At least until you lose power.

That evening, I headed out after the storm had passed to kill some time. I passed over the Mackenzie King Bridge, heading to the Rideau Centre mall, which was lit up. I paused over the Rideau Canal to photograph the twilight view. The clouds were clearing off.

I crossed to the other side of the bridge to photograph the opposite view. The sun might have been down, but the top of the cloud deck was still lit up. This is one of the receding edges of the storm- the big tornado had spent its energy over on the Gatineau side of the river before breaking up. I spent time at the mall, headed back home to darkness, and had absolutely no idea there had been a tornado until the following day when I had a bit of time online and found Facebook messages: 'are you okay?' I'd thought it had just been a particularly intense storm.

The Ottawa Citizen has its printing presses out in the west end, and power went out there as well. The paper delivered later than usual on Saturday, hitting stores in the afternoon, but the storm coverage in that paper dominated the first three pages, and has continued to do so in the days since.

This page was from the Sunday edition of the Toronto Star.

I went for a walk early Sunday morning along Bank Street, before dawn. The caution tape you see here had been there on Friday- there had been signs of some minor work being done on an adjoining building, and the tape had set up a perimeter to keep pedestrians out. The winds of the storm had ended up shredding the tape and wrapping it around the poles here.

Along Bank Street, the aftermath of the storm had a hit and run effect. Some businesses lost power, others did not. Massine's is a grocery store along this stretch that did lose power, and when I photographed this, around five thirty in the morning, it was an hour and a half away from opening. A clerk can be seen behind the sign. Power had come back on in the store the previous evening, but work had to be done. Employees were inside on clean up duty- things like eggs and dairy, for instance, can't be sold to the public if the power goes out in the way that it did.

Down the street, this sign was in a restaurant window. Those shops and restaurants that had not lost power had been quite well visited on Saturday. Chatting with one of the vendors at the main farmers market on Sunday morning, I learned that they had attended another market in the Westboro area, which had been completely knocked out in terms of power. They sold their complete stock of baked goods on the Saturday at that market and had to bake more for the Sunday market at Lansdowne- a testament to just how many people were out of power.

Here I have views from an intersection not far from my home on Sunday morning. A tree had come down in the storm on Friday. Crews had been by to open up the intersection, leaving piles of branches and trunks of the fallen tree on either side of the intersection. Follow up crews would show up in the days afterwards to clear up the debris; the priority was getting spots like this open.

Obviously this stop sign at the scene will have to be replaced. It was quite an experience- the first tornado I've been through (even if I hadn't known it was a tornado until afterwards). At the height of the power outage, hundreds of thousands of people were without power in Ottawa and Gatineau. No one was killed locally, but there were many injuries, and homes were damaged or destroyed. A tornado on the last day of summer? That's a hell of a way to end a season, and one that we'll remember for years to come.


  1. I think when you go through this we can realize how helpless we are against nature ! Being without electricity is terrible because we depend so much on it, for nearly everything ! Fortunately it wasn't winter !

  2. Many things we have taken for granted. We become helpless against these natural disasters. Fortunately, you got home before the rain started. Looks like there's is a lot of damage done to the properties and will need time to clear and restore.

  3. Scary stuff, William. Those are fascinating, though thought-provoking, photos - the first shot is really very beautiful. Either I've had a very sheltered life, journalism is improving, or extreme weather is becoming more frequent around the world...

  4. Whan there is no electricity you can't image it can be so dark without it indeed! Nature has become very unpredictable and capricious.

  5. We've seen the damage in Ottawa and Gatineau on Dutch tv on Saturday.
    Man is powerless in this kind of natural violence. You can only hope that the damage is not too big and that there are no fatalities. It seems that such extreme weather situations are occurring more and more often. But it may also be that we have a distorted picture, because we hear everything very quickly nowadays and see what is happening elsewhere on our planet.

  6. How scary William, thankfully there was no loss of life but much damages I bet! As you say, a heck of a way to end the summer 😱

  7. ...never make Mother Nature mad!

  8. Tornados are very common in our area of North Texas, but it doesn't make them any less scary.

  9. @Gattina: the power (and the heat) going out in the dead of winter here would be problematic.

    @Nancy: had I left when I usually did, I'd have been caught out in the deluge.

    @Mike: it is becoming common.

    @Karl: It was quite an experience, and power outage aside, I wasn't even that affected.

    @Francisco: thank you!

    @Marianne: I ended up just going to bed early, watching the darkness on Friday evening.

    @Jan: that's true.

    @Grace: one of our major hydro stations took a big hit.

    @Tom: definitely not!

    @Janey: they are rare here.

  10. I'm glad you just thought it was a strong storm, not a tornado. And glad your power was restored fairly soon. We once went more than a week without power! :-)

  11. It was quite the storm. I know a lot of people affected. There were 6 tornadoes total, Environment Canada said.
    This was a great photo-op for photographers, like yourself. It was shocking. It's the poor who are suffering, haing to find new housing.

  12. You're fortunate to be okay. You look back at what could have been. You were influenced enough by the power outage.

  13. This all looks so familiar to me from growing up in the Midwest. We had tornados all the time. I remember one time I was out shopping with mom and dad when the storm hit. We had to sit in our car for quite a while until it was safe to drive and when we finally got home, there was a tree that had crashed through our kitchen. I think that was the worst damage we ever endured.
    I'm glad you were okay and didn't take a direct hit. The power of the wind is really something amazing.

  14. @DJan: I've been without power this long before, but that was out in the countryside.

    @Marie: it was an unusual experience. For others, they've lost their homes.

    @Jennifer: one of the other three must have been involved in the one fatality in Ontario. I think I'd heard of a man who died of injuries after a tree fell on him because of the storm, but that was in Kingston. The other touch downs had to have been in Quebec. Aside from the F3 that made the news, the other local ones were in the southern stretches of the city, and out around the Calabogie area.

    @Red: it was a weekend to remember.

    @Sharon: there have occasionally been tornadoes here in Ontario, but they are quite rare for us.

  15. It is so good that it didn't hit where you live, William. You really have to feel for those who lost everything!

  16. That is so scary! I'm glad you are alright. Your photos are reminding me of what it looked like around my city after we had a hurricane hit us last year.

  17. Wow! Really shocking. So glad you are OK, and Ontario shall be!

  18. gosh, sorry to see this harsh weather, wow. glad most are okay. we have been having such rain this year. it is nuts!! like a rainforest i am guessing ... so wild. wonder about the winter and snow??! take care. ( ;

  19. Wow, that is definitely freakish. Glad you are okay. The weather is so very unpredictable these days.

  20. @RedPat: it was a hell of a storm.

    @Lois: weather can do a lot of damage.

    @Cloudia: we'll pick up from this one.

    @Beth: it was quite the event.

    @Bill: that's true.

  21. Brings back memories of Hurricane Isabel for me.

  22. Wow, glad you 'weathered' the storm. The canal is lovely. Great shot. Can you believe our local news didn't mention it?

  23. It seems the weather world-wide is so unpredictable.
    Glad you are okay.

    All the best Jan

  24. Ah, shucks, you changed your header picture. I so loved that gal in the pink dress. Tornadoes in Ottawa - what will good old climate change bring us next.

  25. Glad you made it okay. The weather these days is so strange. We have had flooding rains this week and who knows what will happen next week.

  26. Wind damage can be a big mess. We don't get much big wind out this way but when we do---power is gone and trees are down

  27. The photos I saw online showed the paths of the tornadoes. Very scary and shocking.

  28. Oh dear ~ tornados not fun ~ Lovely night shots, though,

    Happy Day to you,
    A ShutterBug Explores

  29. oh my.... very scary. we are so dependent on the electricity, specially in cities... glad to see that there weren't any casualties.

  30. Heard about the tornado(s) and thought of you, actually. Glad you're okay. Sort of like Mr. Magoo, you had no idea you'd survived a catastrophe, did you?

  31. Wow. Well, I'm very grateful you were all right. Some storms are like that I guess but this one -- that's grim. Loads of damage and an excellent chronicle of the destruction and the impact on the people in your community. (I will say, though, that the post storm skies were dazzling). I hope it won't take long for Ottawa to recover.

  32. @Revrunner: I saw the main storm that did the serious damage- you'd think that it would have occurred to me to photograph that deep dark sky.

    @Eve: I'm hearing that Dutch people saw the news.

    @Denise: it was quite an experience.

    @Jan: that is true.

    @Catalyst: hah!

    @Michelle: it was unheard of here for over a century to have tornadoes of that strength that late in September.

    @MB: this one did some serious damage along the way.

    @Kay: this system packed a wallop.

    @Carol: thank you.

    @Klara: and one of our major hydro stations took serious damage.

    @Lorelei: I didn't.

    @Jeanie: this one was quite a beast.

  33. Whoa, amazing the amount of destruction. Hope no one was hurt.

    1. There were injuries, but it could have been so much worse. If it had happened in the middle of the night, for instance, people would have been asleep in their beds, unable to get out while homes were being destroyed.

  34. Replies
    1. No, but I'm sure cows out in the countryside must have gotten a drenching that day.