featuring Connor Mockett
Hello, everyone! Welcome back to another week of The Weather with Connor. Last column, I talked about my top 3 favourite storm chases I’ve ever been on. This week, I thought I’d talk about the story of my worst storm chase.
Disclaimer: I know this storm was a huge deal for many, many people and turned their lives upside down. I am not diminishing that, just talking about my chase day when it happened.
The date is Saturday, May 21, 2022. It was a warm late spring day, and thunderstorms were forecast across a wide area from the Eastern Ontario region, all the way to the Quebec City region. The thunderstorms in the Eastern Ontario region were supposed to fire up in the early afternoon, and generally be non-severe in nature. Parameters were not all that impressive around here. Southeastern Quebec, however, was supposed to have a big day. A tornado outbreak was actually possible that day, and a tornado watch was issued in the early afternoon as storms started to fire in the middle of the afternoon.
The Quebec event was pretty hyped up in the weather community. For multiple days in advance, weather models were consistently showing an environment capable of producing tornadoes in isolated supercells. On Saturday morning, I took one final look at the models, and headed out to my target area: Trois-Rivières, Quebec. This was the furthest east I’d ever chased, but I knew the terrain was good from previous times scouting the area on Google Maps.
I packed my car with my chasing essentials. Cameras, dashcam, snacks, and an overnight bag for a hotel in case I chased into the night. I left at about 8:30 am that morning and began my 4 hour drive to my target. So far, so good, nothing has gone wrong with my day.
About 2.5 hours into my drive, I stop one final time to look at the models and current radar. At this point I’m well past Montreal, so there’s no turning back. During this stop, I begin seeing tweets and reports about a terrible storm tearing through Southern Ontario. Models hadn’t picked up on this storm until the morning it was happening, so it was unexpected by me and others in the chasing community. Anyway, I continue my drive towards Trois-Rivieres, thinking there’s no way that strong of a storm will make it all the way to the Ottawa area.
At about 12:30 pm, I get to Trois-Rivières, and begin the toughest game there is: sitting and waiting. Storms are expected to fire in the next 2-3 hours, so I head down to the St. Lawrence River right in town to get a good viewing area for each direction.
Around 1pm, I start looking at the Ontario storm again. It strengthened even more and was just going through Peterborough at the time. At this point, I sounded the alarm that something bad was coming. I remember word for word what I typed on Facebook that afternoon, “A destructive Derecho is heading straight for the Ottawa Region. Winds of 120km/h+ are likely”.
I was 4 hours away from home waiting for storms, while the storm of the decade was heading straight for my stomping grounds of Eastern Ontario. It was a terrible feeling knowing something terrible was going to happen, and I wasn’t there to see it, chase it, or report on it. Before I even saw a storm in Quebec, my day was already kind of a bummer.
Anyway, let’s get back to Quebec. Storms indeed fired around 2:30 pm in the hot and muggy 32 degree weather. I crossed over the St. Lawrence River to get on the northern side of it, and headed towards my target storm about 20 minutes west of Trois-Rivières. That storm, along with pretty much every single other one around there, wasn’t able to get its act together. Storms were high based (meaning the clouds weren’t low to the ground), and honestly not all that pretty.
At the time when I started to leave the Trois-Rivières region, I started to really figure out what happened at home in Ottawa and around the area. That Derecho really tore places apart, from completely destroying forests and powerlines, to in some cases, homes. I was disgusted with my decision to chase 4 hours away from home at this point, and it made for a really long drive home.
On my way home, I actually intercepted the Derecho in Quebec, as it had made its way further east out of Ontario. I was just west of Sorel-Tracy at 5:30 pm when I got into it, and I ended up recording a 74km/h wind gust on my Kestrel Meter with my hand hanging out the window on the side of the road to do so. The winds took down many trees along HWY 40 in Quebec, and took out power.
After that interception of the Derecho while it was weakening, I decided to end the chase, get gas, and go home. I was disappointed the entire drive that I wasn’t home to chase that storm, and Quebec’s storms being a bust didn’t make that feeling any better. I had just missed a once in a decade, maybe once in a lifetime, storm that was only 30 minutes north of my house in Winchester. Without a doubt my worst chase ever.
I don’t think we’ll see a storm like that again for a long, long time.
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