Tornado cuts swath through farms near Hawkesville

No one injured as winds topping 180 km/h tore up buildings and fields in a matter of minutes on Aug. 11

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A photograph by an aerial drone of the Wideman property in Hawkesville, after the tornado struck. In the bottom left is the implement shed that was obliterated by the winds, with pieces of debris seen scattered across the fields. [Nate Leis / Submitted]
A photograph by an aerial drone of the Wideman property in Hawkesville, after the tornado struck. In the bottom left is the implement shed that was obliterated by the winds, with pieces of debris seen scattered across the fields. [Nate Leis / Submitted]

It started with a roar – a loud, deafening roar like the sound of a jet engine blasting off the tarmac. There had been a strong wind earlier Friday evening and dark clouds, the signs of a heavy storm in the offing, but what happened instead was much worse.

Along with the roar, “it became black” outside at the home of Sidney and Naomi Wideman. Looking out the window, the matriarch of the family saw neither the fields nor the farm buildings on the Hawkesville-area property. Instead, there was nothing.

“We just saw dark,” she said.

And outside in that darkness were five of her children.

Her one daughter, who was in the house with her, screamed: “The barn’s going!” and for her mother to get into the cellar for safety. The wind, they said, had just been “picking up, and picking up and picking up,” and the cellar seemed the best place to be. But Wideman said she couldn’t move. Her children were out there.

Three of the Wideman children had taken shelter in the barn, while two had gone to the much smaller dog kennels. Not much earlier, some of the children had been in the implement shed – a large and sturdy wood structure. But fortunately, they left, because when the tornado broke past the tree line, it obliterated the structure.

Later analysis by Environment Canada of the damage at the Wideman farm suggested it had been EF-2 tornado, with winds reaching 180 km/h. The winds were so strong they not only leveled the “well anchored” implement shed, but moved and knocked over equipment like forklifts and metal presses weighing up to a ton.

One neighbour farther up the road told the Observer she had seen the roof lifted clean off. More neighbours had told Wideman that, from their homes, they too had seen the roof lifted from the shed whole, took a turn, tipped over, and then flew into pieces.

The tornado then cut a swathe due east, sparing the barn but destroying the buggy shed, moving in the direction of the kennels where the two Wideman children had taken refuge, she said. Incredibly, however, the kennel was left more or less unharmed. Wideman suggests the tornado may have leapt over the structure, as tornados are conventionally thought to do when they move.

Geoff Coulson, a warning-preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada, explained that while tornados were thought to jump while they moved, more recently meteorologists ascribe the intermittent damage of tornados to a constant speeding up and slowing down of the tornado’s winds. So instead of cutting a straight trail of destruction, tornadoes will seem to hop along their path, causing destruction when they land, then lifting off again to land farther away.

In the aftermath, the family tried to describe the surreal feeling of it. One daughter said it was like everything had gone in slow motion, like they were in a movie. Trying to remember what had happened immediately after the event was tricky. Even the deafening roar – it was somehow impossible to remember how it had sounded. Wideman admitted the family was still in shock, but that they were returning to “reality.”

By Monday, members of the community were already on the Wideman property constructing a brand new implement shed for the family. [Faisal Ali / The Observer]

The whole affair, from the moment it seemed to hit to the moment it had passed, might have been only 15 seconds, they guess, but not more than 30. But when the worst had passed, Wideman instructed her daughter in the house to find her other children outside, and shortly after they all reconvened.

Remarkably, no one was seriously hurt. Even the animals, the dogs in the kennels, were unharmed. Some of the crops had been damaged, with debris and wood scattered across the fields and sheds demolished. But everyone was safe, for which they all say they are thankful.

The next morning, members of the community poured in to help those in need, cleaning up the far-flung debris. By Monday, they were already starting to put up the walls for the new implement shed that had been destroyed.

According to the township and Environment Canada, about four or five homes were damaged, with the majority of the destruction taking place over private property. There were no reports of any serious injuries.

The tornado that touched down in Hawkesville Friday about 7:30 p.m. landed in a field north of the Moser Young and Ament Line, and cut a swathe west to east about six kilometres, said Coulson, as well as slightly southward before dissipating near the end of Ament Line, just north of Hawkesville Road. The entire storm cell that generated the tornado may have lasted about 25 to 30 minutes, he said.

Elsewhere in the township, the damage was minimal. Local and regional roads were cleared of the debris, while a hydro pole was reportedly knocked down.

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