Possible rare tornado in Canada's north, extensive damage

'It was a pretty extreme spike [in pressure],' says worker at Fort Smith weather observation station

A powerful storm has damaged buildings and vehicles in Fort Smith, N.W.T.

Residents of the community of over 2,000 are posting pictures of crushed vehicles, crumbled buildings, and scattered siding on social media.

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In a social media post just before 7 p.m., the Town of Fort Smith said "due to high winds," parts of the community are without power, and that the Northwest Territories Power Corporation is actively working to fix it.

It warns people to be careful of downed power lines, and said all roads are clear.

Residents reported the strong winds and heavy rain starting around 4 p.m.

"We came out on Calder [Ave.] and watched the funnel cloud form right in front of our eyes," said Amy Louise, a resident of Fort Smith, in a message on Facebook. "We followed it for a bit and saw it go over toward the high school, and toward St Anne's Street."

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Local media outlet Cabin Radio reported that Environment Canada was "actively looking into" the situation but "could not confirm the presence of a tornado."


(Koidhis, who measures weather elements on an hourly basis for Environment Canada, says he saw a 'really rapid pressure spike' for up to 30 minutes before the storm. Submitted by Thomas Koidhis)

Environment Canada's website reported that winds hit a peak of 61 km/h at about 4 p.m. local time Sunday, from the Fort Smith airport. By 6 p.m., winds were down to 8 km/h.

But Thomas Koidhis, who was working at the weather observation station at the Fort Smith airport when the storm happened, says he observed winds closer to 70 km/h.

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Koidhis, who measures weather elements on an hourly basis for Environment Canada, says he saw a "really rapid pressure spike" for up to 30 minutes.

"When you have pressure rising that quickly, you usually have a storm on your hands or some kind of inclement weather. It was a pretty extreme spike."

Koidhis described the rain showers coming toward him at the tower as "really thick."

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(Porter says he heard the winds suddenly pick up, sending flying debris toward his vehicle. Submitted by Spencer Porter)

"When they actually reached the station, they were being carried by winds at least … about 70 km/h," he said.

"I tried to open the door to go out and observe, but I couldn't open the door because it was being pushed so hard."

Koidhis said he didn't personally see a funnel cloud but got a call from a friend in aviation who said he saw a "column of rotating air and debris being tossed up, up to 1,500 feet."


Brittany Bourke said via Facebook that her property was not seriously damaged, but her neighbour's window was smashed in.

The storm, "happened fast," she said. "I heard the metal and siding hitting the houses and the ground."


Another resident, Spencer Porter, was nearly crushed in a vehicle when a tree was felled by strong winds.

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Porter said he was out picking up a birthday dessert for his mother when the storm hit.


(A view of the damage from Brittany Bourke's front porch in Fort Smith, N.W.T., caused by a powerful storm. Submitted by Brittany Bourke)

"We were getting some pretty heavy rain leading up to the event," said Porter. But as he pulled into his driveway, he said, the rain slowed and stopped.

"I thought, 'Oh, okay, the storm must be over,'" he said.

Porter said he then heard the winds suddenly pick up, sending flying debris toward his vehicle.

"I didn't want to get out of the truck because I thought I was going to get hit," he said.

Porter said he saw a small tree get uprooted by the wind before a larger tree fell onto his truck. He was not injured.

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"As I was sitting there, I was like, 'Well, I'm not dead.'"

Porter said he eventually made it in to the safety of his home. He said it was hard to know how long the storm lasted, but estimated 15 to 20 minutes of hard rain preceded the intense blast of wind.

"That was the first time I've seen anything like this," he said, "at least in Fort Smith."

This article was originally published on CBC.ca and written by John Last, Priscilla Hwang