Monday night, Gibran Marquez made a phone call he never wants to make again.
Marquez was one of many people trapped in a hail storm on Monday evening near Red Deer, which left dozens of vehicles damaged and drivers and passengers bruised and confused along the side of the QEII highway.
As the hail pelted down, shattering all the windows, he said he wasn’t sure if he would make it home.
“It was one of those things where I ended up calling my parents,” he adds. “I’m like, ‘I love you guys. I don’t know what’s about to happen.’”
Leaving Calgary the weather was beautiful, Marquez said, and he and his friends started the drive back to Drayton Valley around 5 p.m.
“Creeping up on Red Deer there, the clouds started getting a little fast, a little spinny. It was still sunny though,” Marquez said. “All of a sudden a tornado warning comes in on my phone.”
“Right off the bat, complete change of the sky. Things started moving faster, the sky started getting darker. What made us pull over though, was one ball of hail that was half the size of my head.”
Marquez said things got intense fast. Giant hail pelted the highway, bouncing up like softballs. As they sat thinking of what to do, the windows started to break – starting with the back where he was sitting.
“Give or take two minutes, all the windows are gone in the vehicle,” he said. “I’m looking at the speed of these balls, and one of them will knock you right out or even kill you, like they were coming in fast.”
As the roof started to crate in, Marquez said he tried to pass up luggage and backpacks for the two in the front to protect themself with best they could, but it wasn’t enough.
“The most traumatizing little noise was just hearing him getting hit, basically it was like someone punching him in the ribs every couple seconds. You just hear a grunt and a cry every single time.”
Around 30 kilometres south, Matt Berry also found himself under fire from the storm. He was on the way home from a round of golf when he was forced to turn off the road just north of Innisfail.
“I’ve never been in a war, I don’t pretend to know what a war sounds like, but inside the car, it sounded like bombs were hitting the top of my car,” Berry said. “And as my windshield started concaving and smashing, I kind of just ducked and covered.”
The hail storm lasted around 20 minutes, Marquez said, before blowing out and leaving sunshine and a rainbow for the tow trucks, first responders and passersby who quickly arrived on scene.
“There was lots of Good Samaritans. . . people who were passing by that obviously didn’t experience the storm itself that were asking if people needed rides,” Berry said. “The fire departments and RCMP were on scene really quickly as well making sure everyone was okay.
“So overall the Alberta community was great at making sure everybody was taken care of.”
Berry wasn’t hurt, and no major injuries have been reported, but Marquez did suffer a mild concussion and his friend, the driver, is currently being checked for broken ribs. Marquez adds that it’s a scary situation, because there is little anyone can do to protect themselves, and he and Berry both say they’re glad that no one was seriously hurt.
“At the end of the day, a car can be replaced,” Berry said. “There was a lot of us that have lots of damage to our vehicles, but from what I heard, everybody’s okay, so that’s the main thing.”
David Phillips, senior climatologist for Environment Canada, said this kind of weather is to be expected in what he calls the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.”
“The heat is there. At the same time, the crops are growing feverishly, the humidity is higher,” said Phillips. “ So those are the fuels that drive these storms…. Kind of stir the kettle.”
Alberta normally would see 12 or 15 tornados a year, Phillips said, so the province is about on track – especially with more warm weather on the way.
“This is just the peak of the season. We still have August to go, and our models are showing that August is going to be warmer than normal,” said Phillips. “So expect a déjà vu of the weather you had on the weekend again.”