WATERLOO REGION - One girl was trapped by a fallen tree and a driver narrowly escaped being impaled by another as a line of strong storms tore through the region Wednesday afternoon.
The storms spawned at least one weak tornado, which touched down in Fergus. There are also unconfirmed reports of touchdowns in Ayr and Breslau, where peak wind gusts topped 100 km/h.
"You were the hotbed for severe weather," said Bryan Tugwood, a severe weather meteorologist with Environment Canada. The Fergus tornado, likely to be rated as an F0 on the Fujita scale, is the first confirmed tornado in Ontario this year. An F0 is the weakest category. As the winds picked up and the rain whipped by in horizontal sheets shortly after 3 p.m., damage reports of toppled trees and hydro poles began coming in from around Waterloo Region, Guelph and Fergus. The storms didn't cause many problems further east.
In the Chicopee area of Kitchener, a 13-year-old girl walking home after getting off a school bus was pinned by a large tree that fell across the sidewalk on Pepperwood Crescent. Firefighters and neighbours used chainsaws to free the girl, who suffered a leg injury.
"It could have killed her," said Marvin Phinney, who lives next door to where the tree fell. "She very easily could have been skewered."
As Phinney gazed at the damage from his window, he heard a high-pitched sound. He went outside - "and realized it was someone screaming."
Phinney raced to her side, and reached through the branches to hold up a heavy limb pinning her leg. "She was hysterical," he said. "She was in a lot of pain."
Firefighters soon arrived from the nearby Fairway Road station, and began cutting away branches. Another neighbour brought his own saw to the rescue effort.
"We kind of tunnelled in toward her," said Kitchener fire Capt. Jeff Palmer. The girl was taken by ambulance to hospital. A friend walking with her wasn't hurt. A bit further south, Ben Larsen was only about a minute away from reaching home when a tree fell on his car on leafy Mill Park Drive.
Limbs pierced his windshield in three places; one of them punched a hole right through his dashboard. Well, the dashboard in his father's Toyota Camry.
The Conestoga College student said he was driving slowly in the pouring rain when he saw the tree quickly coming down. "I couldn't react in time to do anything," he said.
Larsen only suffered a few scratches from broken glass. "It definitely looks a lot worse than what happened to me."
And Hidden Valley resident Irene Shouftas has quite the cleanup project on her hands after the storm uprooted nearly a dozen mature trees on her property and stripped shingles from her roof. She's not sure where some of her patio furniture may have ended up.
"It was scary," said Shouftas, who was at home with daughter Eleni at the time. "It was just so sudden. The wind was so strong that I thought the whole house was going to be taken."
One of her trees was snapped in two, its top half flung about 10 metres away. "It was like a wave. It was just unbelievable."
Environment Canada's Tugwood said these types of storms could have spawned tornadoes, straight-line winds and downbursts, all of which can cause damage. The storms didn't bring much in the way of lightning or hail - high winds were their hallmark.
And as we prepare to head into the summer storm season, "it was just kind of a warm-up of things to come," he said.
The tornado witnessed by a trained spotter in Fergus struck around 3:30 p.m., throwing some sheet metal about 400 metres from the roof of a Zellers store and moving a large air-conditioning unit atop a Canadian Tire location.
Tugwood said it was a very brief touchdown - "not the big, classic Midwest supercell storms."
Reports of damage from Ayr and Breslau were more vague, he said, and tornado touchdowns can't be confirmed yet. The Ayr incident occurred about 3:10 p.m., and Breslau felt the winds 10 minutes later. Peak gusts at the Region of Waterloo International Airport reached 107 km/h.
Although we may see some more rain showers today and Friday, Tugwood said the threat of severe weather appears to be behind us for now.
A cool high of 9 C on Friday is expected to double under sunny skies on Saturday. Showers could return Sunday with a high of 20 C.