Monday, July 2, 2007

Trying to catch up (or, Why must I work during a hurricane?)

I have not been updating this lately, it has been a very busy weekend for me. I do apologize if some of this is a bit late or no longer relevant.

A mighty wind took down part of a tree at Cypress Hills College, among several others throughout the area.

Last Friday night was one of the more notable nights of my career, if not my life so far.

I was scheduled to work from 4:00pm-12:00 midnight running the Inspirational programming on CKSW 570/CJSN 1490, but along with my duties, I also watched a major weather event unfold. There was a big storm brewing just south of us in Montana and it was pushing upward into our area. A severe thunderstorm watch was issued by Environment Canada at around 2:00pm that afternoon for Swift Current, Shaunavon, Maple Creek and Leader. At around 6:30pm, it was upgraded to a tornado watch for Maple Creek, Leader and Shaunavon. Smaller thunderstorms appeared throughout the evening in the Cypress Hills and Maple Creek areas, and pushed up into Leader. Then, that huge storm came in. It went up through the Cypress Hills, Eastend, Shaunavon, and it arrived in Swift Current just after midnight. For about 10 minutes, there were very high winds, heavy rain and frequent lightning, and one half of the city lost power (the amazing thing is, the power stayed on at work, and all of our stations remained on the air as this happened). I was certainly kept busy that evening, I stayed there until 2:00am updating the weather conditions on all four stations, watching the weather radar and warning updates, and watching my programming all at the same time.

I got a call from a listener in the Shaunavon area after the storm hit her community. She told me there were trees uprooted, bins thrown upside-down, and cars damaged by debris. Another listener called me from television hill north of the city after the storm began in Swift Current, and he told me he literally drove into a cloud of dust. Many more asked me if a tornado was going through the city. Thankfully, there wasn't. Environment Canada confirmed there were no tornadoes caused by that storm, but the winds did reach 130km/h when it hit Swift Current, and was just as high in the other areas.

Driving around the city on Saturday, I saw some of the damage that was caused by the storm. Tree branches, limbs, and even whole trees were taken down. Two parks, Riverdene and Riverside, looked more like Point Pleasant Park and Stanley Park, respectively, and another tree looked like it was about to fall into the creek. Uptown, the banner sign at the Wheatland Mall was blown away, the shopping cart corrals, and their carts, at that same shopping centre ended up next to the Highway 4 entrance, and one of the traffic signals at Central Avenue N and George Street were destroyed, shutting the signals off temporarily (regretfully, I didn't take pictures, but a blogging co-worker did).

The power outages caused by the storm happened during a labour dispute by City Light and Power crews. The city had a contingency plan, and contracted two private electric service outfits to get the city back online. The west side got their power back 7 hours later, however, the east side (where my apartment is) was without juice for a whole 18 hours.

This storm also occured just after day two of Frontier Days ended, causing some trouble there. The power was out at Kinetic Exhibition Park (for 18 hours), and caused damage to a few of the rides. Some of them were repaired by the time the fair reopened and generators were put in place, however two rides were shut down for the rest of the weekend. The stations had a booth at the fair as well. (we had everything locked up and secured 2 hours before the storm). I was working at the booth Saturday evening, and the main conversation piece for some of the people that stopped by was the storm. One person from the Maple Creek area said he was listening to a station in Medicine Hat, where that area was getting some wicked weather too, and he heard the Alberta Emergency Public Warning System alert go on. He said he never heard anything like it before in his life. A lot more passers-by told their storm stories, how they were coping without power, and I also heard from someone that same storm caused an F4 Tornado in Montana.

Sure, the city is a mess, most of us were without power for three-quarters of the day, and I had a very late, busy, and extraordinary night at work, but it all could have been a lot worse, and I am thankful that we are all around to tell, and hear, about it.

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