By Sue Tiffin
Days after Saturday’s storm, many residents of Haliburton County were still waiting for power restoration.
According to Hydro One, damage was severe and power outages extensive after a massive wind storm swept through the province beginning Saturday afternoon and ending into the night.
“On Saturday, we saw an extreme wind storm come into the province, and that wind stayed out throughout the night, so over 100 km/h winds,” said Richard Francella, Hydro One spokesperson, who spoke to the Times on Sunday evening. “This is one of the worst wind storms we’ve seen in recent years. As a result of the extreme winds we’ve seen the winds knock power off to more than 450,000 customers across the province.”
While the most recent storm that was comparable was in 2018, Francella said, damage is still being discovered. On Sunday night, damage had included 200 broken poles and 53 damaged transformers, downed power lines and fallen trees but more was expected to be found.
“Our crews are still in areas looking at damage, assessing it, seeing how they can restore power.”
About 24 hours after the winds began, 335,000 people had had power restored, while 115,000 customers remained without.
“We have deployed all available resources,” said Francella. “We have additional crews from other areas that weren’t impacted as badly, to come in and assist. Our crews are out there in full force right now, making those repairs, because we’re seeing approximately 3,500 active outages.”
In the central region, which includes Haliburton County, 50,000 customers were without power on Sunday evening.
“We’re seeing a lot of smaller outages in harder-to-reach areas so we’re using helicopters and off-road equipment to assess the damage and to make those repairs, but what we are seeing in terms of the damage, it’s really extensive and it’s quite severe,” said Francella. “We’re seeing broken poles, we’re seeing fallen trees, we’re seeing downed power lines, so it’s really important that customers stay safe and stay beyond the 10 metres of power lines. Through this damage we do anticipate some customers to be without power for the remainder of the day, and some customers could be without power beyond Monday as well.”
As for customers wondering when their area might see power again, Hydro One’s power outage storm centre map shows areas in Haliburton County with hundreds of customers and areas with fewer customers – Francella said it’s correct that the areas with higher numbers of customers could see their power on first.
“We prioritize getting lights back on to the greatest number of customers in the shortest period,” he said.
While most outages in the county were expected to be restored by the evening of Dec. 14, some areas were still being assessed at that time.
Other areas considered to be among the hardest hit were in Bracebridge, Parry Sound, Huntsville, Penetanguishene, Perth, Tweed and Bancroft.
Record temperatures set on Dec. 11
Peter Kimbell, warning preparedness meteorologist at Environment Canada said the numbers recorded at observation sites used in the Haliburton County area are not representative of the peak winds we actually had on Dec. 11. Checking nearby observation sites in Algonquin Park, in Bancroft, and in Beatrice, Kimbell said the highest wind recorded was 65 km/h.
“So that’s not generally going to knock out power,” he said. “There were higher gusts, but we don’t have any observations to document that.”
He noted that forested areas near the towers would dampen wind substantially.
“I do know that in every case when we have strong winds, those sites in particular never really show them. Although they are there, and the fact that you have power outages prove that point.”
Peak winds across the province were recorded in Point Petrie and Port Colborne at 130 km/h, at 115 km/h at Windsor airport and at Kingston airport at 108 km/h.
“They’re not likely going to be that high up in your neck of the woods, because typically those higher winds are reported basically off of the lake where there’s very little friction,” said Kimbell. “With maximum exposure to the lake, given that there’s no friction [trees, buildings, etc.] over the lake, or very little friction, the winds are always higher there. Waves do cause a bit of friction, but there’s much less friction over the lake then the land, and consequently the winds reported are always less over land.”
Kimbell said Environment Canada’s wind warning threshold is 70 km/h, or gusts to 90 km/h.
“Our warning thresholds are designed to kind of capture some of the impacts, so we expect that we would start to see impacts when we see winds sustained at 70 km/h or gusts to 90,” he said. “Our observation sites didn’t show that, but I just know that they often underreport what is actually happening.”
While we’ve seen winds like this before, Kimbell said what is unusual is the fact that it was so warm, for December. In Bancroft, the temperature reached 12.2 C on Dec. 11. Bancroft’s period of record goes back to 1882, and the previous record for temperature on Dec. 11 in 1897 was 11.1 C. Algonquin Park reached 11.5 C this past Dec. 11, which beat the record of 8.9 set on the same day in 1949. The highest December temperature recorded at a volunteer station in Haliburton was 14.5 C set on Dec. 5 in 2001.
“Warm weather on Dec. 11 has definitely happened before, but this would be the warmest Dec. 11,” said Kimbell. “Consequently … in winter time, if you’re going to get anomalously warm temperatures, it’s almost always because there’s a storm funnelling that warm air up northward. Consequently if there’s a storm there’s going to be wind. They all go together. Is it unprecedented? Well, it’s certainly very unusual, let’s put it that way.”