Winds wreak havoc around Abbotsford

Thursday morning's windstorm created chaos around the Valley

  • Mar. 11, 2016 5:00 a.m.
A tree fell on this house on Valemont Crescent around 8 a.m. during the windstorm on Thursday.

A tree fell on this house on Valemont Crescent around 8 a.m. during the windstorm on Thursday.

A massive windstorm early Thursday morning resulted in downed trees and power lines throughout Abbotsford, power outages to thousands of homes, school closures, diverted flights and even a spooked horse on the loose.

Environment Canada reported that at the peak of the storm at about 4 a.m., gusts reached 93 km/h at Abbotsford Airport. Those were topped at around 9 a.m., when wind speeds hit 95 km/h.

More than 15,000 BC Hydro customers in Abbotsford were without power for much of the day, while 100,000 in total were impacted in the Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast, and North and West Vancouver.

Environment Canada meteorologist Matt MacDonald said the storm maintained its winds longer than expected, particularly as measured at Abbotsford International Airport.

He said the winds were associated by a large low-pressure system – a “bomb” in meteorologist terms – that tracked inland more than most other large weather systems that affect the West Coast.

Although the wind gusts were substantial, they failed to break the March record of 102 km/h in Abbotsford set in 1964. They were also topped elsewhere in the province, notably on the central coast, where a weather station recorded a gust of 163 km/h.

Reports of trees and power lines falling across cars, properties and roads came in from across Abbotsford.

Leon Krieg had driven all the way to work, near Harrison Hot Springs, when he received a call around 8 a.m., informing him a tree had fallen on his house.

“Now I’m here, trying to figure out how to get this mess cleaned up,” he said, after returning to his residence on Valemont Crescent in west Abbotsford. Krieg said he hopes he doesn’t have to foot the bill for the damage to the roof of his garage, as the tree fell from a public park adjacent to his property.

A crew from the City of Abbotsford came by and looked at Krieg’s house, but gave him no timeline on when the tree might be removed.

One of the largest fallen trees was on Downes Road, just east of Townline Road, blocking the eastbound lane of traffic for several hours while it was cleared. Another tree that fell in the parking lot of Wellesley Manor caved in the back of a small car.

The high winds also resulted in more than a dozen local schools being closed, or the students released, for the day due to power outages.

As well, two WestJet flights were forced to turn back from Abbotsford Airport.

According to the airline, flights from Calgary and Edmonton were unable to land and returned to their original airports due to high winds. Passengers were put on the next available flights.

The windstorm resulted in the City of Abbotsford activating a level one emergency operations centre at 7 a.m., led by the engineering department and backed by the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) and Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service (AFRS).

City spokesperon Rhonda Livingstone said although a number of roads were closed due to downed trees and power lines, there were no life or safety issues.

She said BC Hydro had five crews in the area to respond to power issues, while the engineering and parks, recreation and culture staff responded to reports of downed trees.

APD Const. Ian MacDonald said police were busier than usual, helping to divert traffic in areas with fallen trees and power lines, and advising BC Hydro and the city about areas of concern.

He said one unusual call related to a horse that had been spooked by the storm and escaped its property. The horse was running east along Zero Avenue from Aldergrove into Abbotsford, and it took Sgt. Judy Bird about an hour to corral it onto a property.

Coincidentally, the property was the one from which the horse had escaped.

Fire Chief Don Beer said AFRS was also busy, with about 45 career and auxiliary firefighters responding to calls, starting in the early morning. This compares to a typical day, when 16 career firefighters are on hand.

He said that by early afternoon, crews from the city, APD, Hydro and AFRS had tended to about 45 sites.

– with files from Tyler Olsen and Kelvin Gawley

(Photo below by Vikki Hopes: A large tree came down in the eastbound lane of Downes Road near Townline Road.)