A stunning, sudden storm on Sunday afternoon caused significant damage to a number of properties in Fort Smith.
Many residents said they were convinced a tornado had struck as they surveyed wreckage on the streets.
Video shot by resident Ramanda Sanderson showed debris swirling through the air at the storm’s height.
Trees came down – some onto nearby power lines – while a range of buildings suffered roof damage and more than one vehicle was struck by flying material.
Spencer Porter had a narrow escape when a tree came down on top of his blue truck as he sheltered from the wind.
“I pulled up and and the rain started picking up,” Porter told Cabin Radio. “I immediately knew something wasn’t right.
“All I see is one tree coming down and then, immediately after, the second large one came down on top of the truck.
“At that point I had ducked down and made the decision to exit the truck, as there were other large trees I was worried about.”
Environment and Climate Change Canada said it could not confirm the presence of a tornado but was actively looking into what had happened.
“It’s deciding whether that was a plough wind or a tornado,” said meteorologist Robyn Dyck. “Either could have made that same damage. At this time we can’t confirm which it is.
“The [weather] observing site [in Fort Smith] only got up to about 61 kph but the airport’s not downtown, so it could have been different there.
“It could have been what we call a landspout tornado – not necessarily a supercell tornado. Thunderstorms that produce supercell tornadoes are much more severe than the ones hanging around now but, if a storm happens to be co-located with natural spinning in the environment, it can create weaker, landspout tornadoes. But we can’t confirm that yet.”
Plough winds are straight-line winds associated with the outflow from severe thunderstorms.
Spencer Porter managed to escape unharmed from this vehicle after a tree fell on it.
Kendra Schaefer submitted this photo of an apparent funnel cloud in formation over the community.
Sunday’s storm overturned some smaller structures in Fort Smith.
At 7:30pm on Sunday, Environment and Climate Change Canada said it was still studying photo and video evidence from the community.
“We’re still gathering information,” said a representative of the agency. “If people have seen a funnel, it does lead us to suspect a tornado is possible, or probable.”
‘I can’t unsee that’
Residents of Fort Smith felt sure they had seen some form of funnel cloud.
When asked by Cabin Radio, Brittanie Gladue declared herself “150 percent” certain she had seen a tornado touch down in front of her vehicle and three others.
“As soon as I saw a domino of trees coming down one after another, the three other vehicles ahead of me stopped dead in their tracks as trees fell in front of us and in front of them,” she said.
Trees are down throughout the community.
Yards are littered with debris.
“The ‘tornado’ was so visible in front of me that my mind went into panic mode. I put the truck in reverse as debris flew all around us, and I tried to call my mom – telling her to get away from the windows because I was certain that I just saw a tornado come down.
“I went to my grandma’s and she said she saw exactly what I saw, so I knew for sure that it wasn’t just some ‘gust of wind.’
“I can’t unsee that. I’m so grateful I wasn’t hurt, that my nephew wasn’t hurt, that no-one was hurt.”
Louis Mercredi described seeing ” debris circling around 100 feet in the air,” while Brittany Bourke, who shared images showing wreckage outside her home, said her neighbours had reported seeing a tornado.
Amy Turner posted online: “We got drenched by the rain and we saw a funnel cloud develop and rip trees out of the ground, and watched a transformer blow, which is why the power is out.
“Stay away from King Street and stay safe! Crazy weather we’re having up here.”
Pieces of roof from several properties lay upturned on the street.
A tree came to rest on the roof of this house.
Trees were uprooted throughout the community.
Councillor Chris Westwell, the Town of Fort Smith’s acting mayor while Lynn Napier-Buckley is out of town, said there were “no major injuries” reported as of 7pm on Sunday.
One person sought treatment at the town’s health centre “not for injuries, but for trauma,” said Westwell, urging anyone else suffering any form of shock or traumatic stress to seek support from family members or health centre staff.
“Otherwise, everybody appears OK,” he said. “We’ve been able to make arrangements for some people who ended up displaced from their homes due to roof damage or power outages.”
Westwell continued: “We’re pretty lucky. It was a fairly major event that happened in the middle of a residential area, and I’m currently standing in the town hall parking lot looking at a piece of roof from two blocks away.”
According to Westwell, power was at least partially restored to the community as of 7pm.
Resident Jeannie Marie Jewell said the storm “caught everyone by surprise,” and produced what, to her, “looks like tornado damage.”
She said: “Gordon Mercredi’s garage ended up 200 feet away from his home, right in the middle of the street.”
Jewell, who has lived her whole life in the community, said this is the most severe weather event she can remember in Fort Smith – aside from the 1968 landslide.
Westwell said he recalled one similar storm roughly 12 years ago, but otherwise nothing like it.
Sarah Pruys contributed reporting.