It was definitely a rather frightening and devastating afternoon today for some parts of southern Ontario, with multiple tornadoes spotted, notably the one that tore through the south end of Barrie. This evening, it was a relief to hear that family members in the city, and a friend in the nearby Hawkestone area, are totally safe. Here in Renfrew, our area was under a severe thunderstorm watch from about noon hour to just now (shortly before midnight), but we didn’t get much more than some off and on showers and a bit of wind. The current composite radar image from Environment Canada shows a line of precipitation from about the Niagara Region to north of Montreal, with some heavy stuff yet again hitting Kingston and the Thousand Islands.
This afternoon, my wife was watching “The Young & The Restless” on Global Toronto, like she often does most weekdays, and throughout the show and into the station’s 5:30pm newscast, the Alert Ready system would cut in numerous times with its scary-as-heck “attention tones” and the tornado warning announcements for the affected areas, in particular the Barrie area, Peterborough and the Kawarthas, and northern Lennox & Addington. Although the Renfrew area wasn’t under the warning, I believe these warnings were seen pretty much everywhere that Global Toronto (CIII-DT) is seen, whether OTA or subscription, given the Global flagship likely still has something of an “all-Ontario” mandate remaining in its broadcasting licence, which dates back to the network’s beginnings in 1974. We had noticed this happening last month, when a similar weather warning was issued in northeastern Ontario – Global Toronto viewers in Renfrew, and probably the rest of the province, saw and heard these Alert Ready messages for the Timmins area. I know many Ontarians often go off about child abduction alerts being issued province-wide, and how they think it’s ridiculous that someone in, say, Essex County is getting an alert re a child abduction way out near Dryden or Kapuskasing or somewhere else that’s hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres away, but as far as I know, this is standard procedure for child abduction alerts, aka “AMBER Alerts”, in every state, province and territory in North America.
Today’s tornado in Barrie came thirty-six years after the city’s south end was levelled by one of many twisters that tore across southern Ontario, in the afternoon on Friday, May 31st, 1985. Eight people died as a result of the Barrie tornado, which cut through neighbourhoods including Ardagh, Allandale, Minet’s Point and Tollendal, and just missed the city’s television station, CKVR (ch. 3), by a couple of kilometres. On June 1st, the day after the tornado, CKVR’s “Total News” team put together a special report, “The Eye Of The Storm”, anchored by Sharon Burkhart, with long-time CKVR weatherman Bob McIntyre, plus, in my opinion, one of Channel 3’s best ever “reporter packages”, an on-the-scene report by future Citytv/”Breakfast Television” host Kevin Frankish just moments after the tornado struck. My grandfather in Alliston had recorded “The Eye Of The Storm” on videotape, along with other post-twister coverage on CKVR, but I somehow left that VHS tape behind when I moved out of my Belleville apartment after finishing college. However, the Barrie Historical Archive has a copy of the special report, possibly an “original tape” from the station itself, and it can be seen here.
I would say the most severe summer storm I’ve ever experienced was on July 17th, 2006, as part of a series of “derechoes” that week. My wife & I were in Peterborough that evening, visiting my sister and her then boyfriend as part of a summer journey across south-central Ontario, and while out for a walk near their place in East City, near Nicholls Oval, we noticed a lot of lightning to the west of us, and the wind began to pick up very quickly. It got pretty bad by the time we got back to the apartment off Armour Road, and the wind was so powerful at that point that Shannon had to quickly move her little black Chrysler Neon out from under a tree in the building’s parking lot. At 11:00, we turned the TV on, and only a few minutes into the 11pm edition of “NewsWatch” on CHEX-TV, the screen went black, and a few seconds later, a still of the NewsWatch logo appeared – the hosts and crew likely had to run for cover somewhere in the compact Monaghan Road studio facility. Shortly after, the power went out across the city, and didn’t come back on until the next morning, when PUC crews were out in full force.
Upon leaving Peterborough the morning of the 18th, we passed through my childhood home of Omemee, with Lindsay’s CKLY-FM (91.9) on the radio, and one of the announcers was providing emergency info for, coincidentally, Omemee, which also suffered lots of damage the night before. On the Thursday (July 20th), Shannon got to experience Wasaga Beach for the first time, while we were in the Collingwood area, visiting my dad’s side of the family. We were on the beach and in the water for a while, but as soon as we heard some thunder rumble across Nottawasaga Bay, we grabbed our stuff and headed for the car. Shortly after, while in the parking lot at the Real Canadian Superstore at Mosley & 45th Streets, we saw at least one Simcoe County ambulance racing down Mosley, toward Beach Areas 1 & 2, the busiest parts of the beach itself – that can’t be good. Back at my grandmother’s place, we turn on “A-Channel News” on CKVR that evening, and the top story? A mother from Angus was struck and killed by lightning, within spitting distance of where we were at Beach Area 2, and with her infant child beside her – Shannon seems to remember seeing the mother and child.
Following today’s carnage in Barrie, it is my hope that the residents affected will be able to quickly recover and rebuild, and that all levels of government will respond, not with “thoughts and prayers” or other empty words or virtue signalling, but with plenty of financial aid and manpower to get the affected residents and their families back to stability following this one-two punch of a tornado during a global pandemic. After all, actions speak louder than words.