Huge hail smashes windshields and injures drivers on Alberta highway

‘Glass flew all over me, so I ducked a little and covered myself until my glass stopped shattering’

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Huge hail smashed windshields and stranded travelers Highway 2 south of Red Deer when a storm swept through the area on Monday.

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Vehicles lined both sides of the QEII between Red Deer and Innisfail Monday night, waiting for a severe storm that had triggered multiple tornado warnings and watches throughout the day.

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Paramedics were the first to arrive at the scene around 6:30 p.m. and called for help from RCMP upon arrival. RCMP confirmed that several people suffered minor injuries and three were more seriously injured — a man suffered a cut on his neck, a woman suffered a panic attack and another man “went into shock,” Mounties said.

Alberta Health Services said no patients were taken to hospital, but paramedics were on the scene for nearly four hours as crews checked dozens of parked vehicles. AHS EMS Spokesperson Stuart Brideaux said most of the injuries were minor cuts and bruises from the hail and broken glass.

Officers registered the license plates of 34 damaged vehicles, but the total number of affected vehicles could be more than 60, according to Alberta RCMP, media relations officer Cpl. Gina Slaney.

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“They don’t have exact numbers yet because it was such chaos,” Slaney said. “Those numbers can change.”

While Mounties never closed the road, traffic on the highway stopped as drivers stopped to await the storm.

Environment Canada said most of the property damaged by the storm involved vehicles on the highway, but some buildings in and around Innisfail may also have been damaged.

“We’re starting to get reports of some damage to some infrastructure,” meteorologist Jesse Wagar said.

Wagar said the storm moved quickly through the county from the west, dropping its largest hail — about softball-sized chunks, about 10 inches — near Markerville, southwest of Red Deer. During the QEII it was about the size of a baseball.

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“At this point, we haven’t seen anything that could indicate a tornado has crashed, but there were a few funnel cloud reports,” she said.

“Those storms, they kept moving east, southeast. They transitioned into a more wind-related thunderstorm where we saw some wind damage near Trochu and the hail started to subside.”

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Courtenay, BC Mayor Bob Wells was stuck on the highway Monday night while on a family trip through the area. He hosted a short Facebook live, which has since been viewed more than 130,000 times, showing the damage to his van: a sunken windshield, blown-out sunroofs, dents on the exterior of the vehicle and the rear passenger’s window.

Wells said that as soon as the glass sunroofs were shattered, water started flowing in. He and his son held up the umbrellas to protect themselves from hail while the family sheltered under blankets.

“You could feel the hailstones trying to get through the little headliner thing,” he said. “When a big hit was right where your hand was, it hurt incredibly. So my son and I have bruises.”

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Hail storm just outside Red Deer

Posted by Bob Wells on Monday, August 1, 2022

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Wells, formerly a body technician, said his van has likely been written off, as have many of the other vehicles on the highway. Still, he and his family continue their journey in a rental car — a vehicle they were lucky enough to purchase at a busy store in Red Deer — while assessing the damage to their van.

Matt Berry of Red Deer also got into the storm. He said he was leaving a golf course in Innisfail, noticing the looming clouds and weather warnings. When he reached Antler Hill, he noticed several cars parked at the side of the road and some smaller hail was beginning to fall. As soon as he stopped, “that’s when it really started hammering.”

“Once the hail started falling on the windshield, which took the brunt, you’re afraid it’s going to come through,” Berry said. “Glass flew all over me, so I just ducked and covered until my glass stopped shattering.”

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Berry said the worst parts of the storm lasted about eight minutes. He said ambulances, firefighters and Mounties arrived shortly after and several Good Samaritans who passed by after the storm offered rides to those stranded on the highway.

The Red Deer area is predicted to see more rain and storms over the course of the week, although Environment Canada has not issued new warnings of more severe storms as of Tuesday morning. But Wagar noted that July and early August mark storm season for Alberta, and residents should prepare for severe weather by downloading an alert app that sends alerts to their phones.

“And then, of course, have a plan of what to do to stay safe if you get those alerts,” she said. “It’s important to go through that at the start of any severe weather season.”

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Twitter: @michaelrdrguez

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