A severe thunderstorm struck Ottawa and surrounding areas hard on May 21, causing significant damage and power outages, and leading to at least 10 reported deaths. The derecho was initially predicted to be a routine severe thunderstorm, but quickly turned into a significant weather event with many lasting consequences.
Researchers reportedly measured the strongest wind gusts from the storm at an incredible speed of 190 km/h, which just enters the threshold of wind speeds produced by an EF2 tornado. At the Ottawa airport, the strongest reported gust was measured at 120 km/h, which is the strongest at the airport in 60 years.
An estimated 180,000 hydro customers in Ottawa lost power as a result of the storm, with a significant number still without power days later, and still more days of work anticipated as of the time of writing. An update posted by Hydro Ottawa reported that the majority of customers sould be restored a week after the storm. The hardest hit areas of Ottawa were Hunt Club, Merivale, Navan, and Stittsville, according to the city’s website.
Other areas, including those served by Hydro One and Hydro Quebec, were affected as well. Countless schools and businesses in Ottawa had to remain closed after the long weekend, as did many outside of Ottawa. The Upper Canada District School Board reported on social media that 12 of its schools had lost power as a result of the storm, nine of which still did not have power upon the anticipated return to school on May 23, and therefore had to remain closed to staff and students.
Bryce Conrad, who is the CEO of Hydro Ottawa, is quoted as saying that the storm on May 21 was “as bad as it gets”, even worse than the Ice Storm which hit the region in 1998, and the tornadoes that shook the region in 2018. Photos quickly flooded the internet after the derecho, showing toppled hydro transmission towers, trees lying in tangled disarray, farm buildings flattened, and cars dented beyond repair by falling trees and debris.
Residents and businesses in North Dundas and the surrounding area experienced some bad weather, but were spared the severe impact of the storm felt in some other regions. However, a clear sign of the chaos in Ottawa on Saturday and for several days after was the influx of people in Winchester. With so many Ottawa residents without power, Winchester became a nearby hub for all basic necessities, including groceries, fuel, and restaurant meals.
Stories surfaced on social media of local workers handling the unexpected influx of customers in an efficient, friendly, and professional manner. Many people shared open offers to have those affected by the storm use their kitchens, bathrooms, and showers as needed. Others set up charging stations for phones and tablets to be charged.
Despite the devastation of the storm, the damage caused, and the lost lives, the tragedy showed how those in different communities come together to help their neighbours in times of need.