A massive windstorm in June toppled trees in Lakeside Park.

2015’s top stories No. 2: The big windstorm

A giant storm toppled trees and caused extensive damage on June 29 this year.

“You know how the bridge whistles in the wind?” asked Nelson city councillor Anna Purcell. “Well last night the bridge was screaming.”

Purcell was at Lakeside Park when a tree-toppling windstorm hit Nelson on June 29, and was one of several people who shared their firsthand accounts of the weather event that had 105-km winds, lightning and torrential rain. It resulted in power outages across Nelson Hydro’s service area, and some homes didn’t get their electricity back until a day later.

“All of a sudden the air was white with rain and wind, then trees started cracking,” said Purcell, who ran to the leeward side of the concession stand.

“People were still in the water when the storm hit. They were running out of the water and appeared to be dodging falling trees. People were screaming, looking for cover.”

What was likely 10 minutes felt much longer, she said.

“It was clearly safer to stay where we were with the cement building but you don’t know how long it’s going to last or if it’s going to escalate.”

Purcell said the sound of the bridge wires screaming was haunting. The noise of the wind, rain and bridge was louder than the trees cracking.

“The sound of the wind was so strong, and the rain hitting things and the bridge and wood cracking, wind tearing through leaves.”

She said on the water there were “incredible huge ocean-size rollers going against the flow [of the West Arm] with multiple whitecaps.

“I’ve never felt so squish-able in my life,” she said.

The top end of a large tree broke through the glass and metal framed roof of a portion of the SEEDS greenhouse adjacent to the tennis court. The playground was damaged as well, with large limbs landing on a swing-set and other features.

Just up the bank from the tennis courts an uprooted tree toppled onto a portion of a two-story home at the corner of 2nd and Kootenay St. A neighbour said the woman who owns the home had been out walking her dog and seemed relieved that her dog was okay.

An Uphill couple walking their dog on the trails above Mountain Station was also caught in the storm.

“In two minutes it was like we had gone for a swim in the lake,” the man said. Luckily, the trees they took shelter under keep them safe. Oddly, even with the thunder and lightning, their bulldog wasn’t bothered in the least.

Meanwhile, Rosemont neighbours Scott Burrows and Wayne Woodward discovered a merlin nest in a tree fragment, complete with two surviving chicks. The avian pair were sent to a wildlife centre in Delta.

City crews took on the ambitious project of getting Lakeside Park prepared for Canada Day celebrations only a few days later, sawing the downed trees into pieces and removing them.

When Canada Day arrived, Purcell was there once again, watching as councillor Michael Dailly cut the cake. During the festivities, Mayor Deb Kozak addressed the crowd, thanking city workers and all who helped to get the park ready.

According to Nelson Hydro’s Alex Love, Nelson and Procter were hardest hit, “with lots of good-sized trees lying on lines, broken poles, and damage to conductors.”

At the end of July, Love reported Nelson Hydro spent between $800,000 and $900,000 on repairs. About $500,000 to $600,000 of that was for immediate emergency response during and immediately after the storm, and the rest was still being spent on more long-term matters.

He said although there were some equipment costs, “the lion’s share is labour costs.”

“It was definitely all hands on deck in the line department,” he said, “and we brought in several contractor crews, so we were definitely a bolstered work force, and some other staff were reallocated to assist in damage patrols.”