Archive for the ‘The storm of a century: July 15th 1995’ Category

late afternoon on a hot sunny day

our forested shoreline was beautiful

our forested shoreline was beautiful..( brown boathouse is ours)

Friday, July 14th, 1995 was a hot record breaking day. Fortunately we stayed cool beneath a canopy of white and red pines, white spruce, basswoods and birch trees that surrounded our cottage ‘Sundancer’. (It’s name derived from the setting sun’s rays which reflect off the choppy lake waters to dance on the cottage walls and windows.) That evening the sun set behind a growing  mountain of towering thunderheads. Thunder rumbled, lightning flashed, as heavy rain pelted the roof and gusts of wind rattled the window panes. We lost power shortly after 10:00 pm and by midnight the lightning flashes were so frequent that the clouds were virtually sparking with bolts of electricity that shook the ground with loud claps of thunder. Driving rain pushed into the cottage beneath the doors and under window frames. And then all grew quiet. Thinking the storm was over we mopped up the floors and then headed off to bed.  But at 1:45 am our dog ‘Raider’ (a big red Akita who trembled at thunder) suddenly came to full alert and jumped onto our bed and placed himself in front of the window facing the lake. He wouldn’t budge but just stood there shaking like a leaf…. and then it happened. A giant slap of nature’s hand shook the cottage to its foundation. Everyone was startled awake. We couldn’t see anything out of the bedroom windows and soon realized why; trees and branches blanketed the view. Raider somehow knew that a violent assault was about to take place and had bravely stood his ground to protect us. “Good boy Raider, brave heart!”

the foundation shifted under the impact of falling trees

It wasn’t easy to get outside as trees lay across the porch and blocked the doors. We heard voices calling out from some distance wanting to know if everyone was okay. With a hatchet in one hand and a flashlight in the other, Ray Bombier was scrambling across the fallen trees checking on all the neighbors along the lane. Everyone was rattled but no one was hurt save a renter staying at the Peter’s cottage who was cut by breaking glass.  No one slept much that night.

Adam… almost every tree was leveled in our yard

Saturday, July 15th had an early awakening since the sun broke the horizon at 5:00 am and was fully visible from every cottage along the lane… there was no forest to block the view.. it had simply vanished with the storm.   Downed trees were strewn everywhere you looked. Five trees had landed on our cottage roof, buckling screens on the porch and cracking some window panes.  Shingles were peeled off the roof, the brick chimney was shattered, fallen tree roots pulled out of the ground had ripped up water lines, telephone lines and tilted nearby out-buildings.

hard to believe but this is Lake of Bays Lane

We had three vehicles parked behind the cottage and two survived unscathed (surprisingly), but the cab of our Mazda truck was squashed  and the tires flattened under the weight of fallen trees. Trees that remained standing were twisted off at a height of 8 meters… leaving just their trunks behind. Even with so many trees down, it was almost impossible to see our cottage from the next door neighbour’s (Bongards) yard as fallen trees had literally buried our cottage; and our view of the Pinckard’s cottage was likewise camouflaged by fallen trees.

hard to believe that’s our cottage under all those fallen trees (from the Bongards)

The lane behind the cottage was burried under a blanket of forest debris, fallen power lines and snapped telephone poles. According to reports, the storm had cut a 6000 acre swath through Dwight into Halibuton county. The only way out was by boat. Mayor Tom Pinckard declared Dwight a natural disaster area and for several weeks thereafter environmental officials flew over the area and snapped air photos. Fetching water from the lake was given top priority and it took an entire day to clear a path through the debris to reach the beach. Surprisingly we found our motor boat tossed onto the beach right next door to our newly re-canvassed canoe that lay unmolested on a support rack… go figure!  The beach was ripped apart by torn out tree roots. We were surprised to see how shallow the pine tree roots had been.

Blair on top, Jay in water.. the  pines’ roots literally rolled up our beach front

Volunteers armed with chainsaws, road crews, and hydro crews swarmed the area over the next two days clearing the lane of debris; but it took another three weeks before power was restored to our cottage. Road crews cleared a 10 meter  strip along the lane at no cost to the landowners…. thank you very much!  But the summer heat continued to be oppressive which made wood cutting and clearing even more tedious.

Jay worked hard that summer splitting all the birch logs

Cooking was done on a Coleman stove and the toilet flushed with pails of water hauled from the lake.  We didn’t own a gas powered generator but many neighbours did such that our quiet little enclave of cottages buzzed night and day with the sounds of chain saws and chugging generators. As insurance adjusters were required  to inspect the damage before claims could be covered, trees fallen on buildings remained in place for two weeks before a contractor was authorized to remove them. But the majority of tree removal was not covered by insurance and numerous hustlers and clean-up crews were selling their services to the cottagers. Many of us had hoped to sell our commercially valued trees (red and white pines fetched $400 /1000 sq feet) to the local saw mills but because so many felled trees flooded the local market, the wood was devalued greatly.

a barren backyard.. very dispiriting!

Nevertheless each neighbour coded their cut logs to keep track of ‘inventory’ as clearing crews worked 16 hour days. A five man work crew cut and piled our ‘S’ logs beside the lane; it looked like a clear cutting operation.

totally exposed with the clear cut clean up

Herman Cunnington was paid $5,800 to cut and remove our logs after 10 days of work. We kept the birch logs and began to split them into firewood which lasted us for another 5 years.

For three weeks we did all our cooking on the front porch. Grandma Blanche Simpson could cook anything on that Coleman stove as we enjoyed roast beef, homemade cookies, and an assortment of desserts.  She ‘prided’ her skills on surviving the Great Depression.

Our insurance company contracted Garry Best to repair the damage to the cottage, so by mid August another work crew was  on site repairing damaged structures. What couldn’t be repaired was demolished; like our quaint but well used workshop/woodshed. It was 63 years old and smelled brand new as the backhoe smashed it into smithereens.

lots of firewood and now no wood shed

By Thanksgiving Garry had replaced the cottage roof, re-balanced the support foundation, replaced the decks and repaired the fractured screened porch, rebuilt the chimney, installed underground power lines and made numerous other small but necessary repairs. As well Garry built a new bunkie near the back lane to replace the one that still had a foot print from the 1950’s.   Thank you Garry.

Garry ripping off the 1932 vintage red shingles

And so the saga ends with a much changed landscape. Until this storm we didn’t really know that ‘Sundancer’  had been built on a former sand bank.  But with most of the forest cover gone, the cottage stood out like a sore thumb without a bandage. It would take years before the land began to regenerate new tree growth.  Much of the soil cover had been removed by the graders and excavators. Grass just wouldn’t catch without soil.

now so lonely… winter 1995

Wildflowers were the first ground cover to take hold the following Spring and some of them are still around today. In 1996 several neighbours pooled their resources under the leadership of Tom Pinckard and hired a tree spade truck for a week in which 15 year old white pines on the Borden Boothby gravel pits were dug out, transported and replanted on the stripped cottage lots along Lake of Bays Lane.

the tree spade made a huge difference to reforesting the landscape

So today many of the healthy bushy white pines  gracing our front and back yards are due to this communal effort.  Thank you Tom and Borden.

Change is not always a matter of choice but adaptation and a positive attitude can surely brighten the prospects when change is inevitable.

Kathy, Raider, and Jay enjoying our new panoramic view of the lake

one year later.. an entirely new’look’ for Sundancer


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The months of June and early July in 1995 were exceptionally warm at the lake as an exceedingly warm and humid air mass produced a deadly heat wave over parts of the Midwest. Day time temperatures climbed into the low 30°C range and the water temperatures in the lake seemed almost tropical. Because the humidity index was high, the heat wave was oppressive. On Friday, July 14th Dwight Beach was crowded with beach combers seeking relief from the intense daytime heat. Many cottagers were expecting family and friends to join them for the weekend as many wanted to escape the heat in the city. It was a hot hazy, lazy, day in Muskoka. But unbeknownst to we cottagers a deadly series of progressive derechos (a thunderstorm complex that produces a damaging wind swath of at least 400 km) generated along the northern fringe of the heat wave region was about to savage our small cottage community.

Later that evening towering thunderheads gathered on the horizon and an hour long spectacular lightning show wowed all who looked out their windows. 6,000 lightning bolts a minute lit up our underworld! By midnight heavy thunderstorms bombarded us with torrential rain and strong gusty winds. Boats tossed in the waves, windows rattled in their sashes and rain was driven under doors. Leaves were torn from their branches and the cottage pets took refuge under beds. It was a night that no one here will forget! And then after the lightning subsided and the lashing rains let up, all turned eerily quiet. Only the animals seemed to realize that the worse was yet to come as they became frenzied and anxious by the approaching squall line.

roiling clouds advancing across the lake at night

Unlike other thunderstorms, which typically can be heard in the distance when approaching, a derecho can strike without warning. Within minutes, extremely high winds can arise, strong enough to knock over highway signs and topple large trees. These winds are accompanied by spraying rain and frequent lightning from all directions.

The severe weather came from Upper Michigan and adjacent portions of Ontario near Sault Saint Marie. By late evening the storms had evolved into a arrowhead of thunderstorm gusts measuring 90 mph and more. Sustained winds above 80 mph contained many streams of high velocity ‘windshear’ that carved swaths of destruction through the landscape. Thus began the intense “Ontario-Adirondacks Derecho” one of the most costly severe thunderstorm events to occur in eastern North American during the 20th century, causing nearly one-half billion 1995 U.S. dollars in damage. The derecho raced across an 800-mile path in eastern North America in 12 hours, at an average speed of 67 miles per hour. Seven people were killed and several dozen were injured. Many of these were hikers and campers visiting the forested regions of south central Ontario and the Adirondack Mountains in New York.

the greatest fireworks seen on the lake

The derecho that hit us appeared as a spearhead squall line shortly after 01:45 hours on Saturday, July 15th. A high pressure area formed behind the squall-line drove across the lake from the northwest in the form of a down-burst with super-cells and even tornadoes embedded within it. Two funnel clouds were spotted above the north end of Dwight Beach Road. It took only a moment to pass through (straight-line wind gusts reached 160 km/h) and only a moment to level most of the century old pines, hemlocks, and balsams that wooded our shoreline and sheltered our lane. In some places the winds cleared the shoreline completely, lifting motor boats from their anchorage and dumping them on shore, and knocking down trees like pins in a bowling alley. Some tress were uprooted while others were sheared or twisted apart 25 feet above ground level. What survived the strike was confusing to comprehend as the storm cells seemed to jump over some areas yet wipe clean others. Ribbons of destruction tore through the landscape like fingers on a broken rake. The paths of destruction were most evident from air photos taken after the storm’s passage.

Particularly hard hit by the July 14-15, 1995 derecho was that part of south central Ontario east of Georgian Bay, with some of the most intense damage around the towns of Huntsville, Bracebridge, Orillia, Minden, and Fenelon Falls. Thousands of trees were blown down, with some blocking roadways, severing electrical lines, and damaging or destroying homes and automobiles. Many mobile homes also were overturned or blown away. One person was killed and numerous people were injured. Most of the injuries involved cuts, bruises, and/or broken bones. Luckily for us, no one on Lake of Bays Lane was injured beyond one cottager who was cut from broken glass as windows imploded from the weight of falling trees. Perhaps because our cottage lots were so heavily treed, the falling trees collapsed over one another covering cottages in the process in a net of tangled limbs and branches, and in doing so protected the roofs from being ripped away by the winds.

All went deadly quiet after the storm passed through that night. The skies cleared immediately and the Milky Way’s stars shone brilliantly on a landscape entwined with fallen trees. Not use to seeing open skies from our back porches, it was shocking to have so much night light flooding the chaos. For the first time in decades the rocky escarpment that older residents referred to as’ Sunset Rock’, was clearly visible to everyone on the lane; the forest cover that obscured its features was gone. But the quiet was surreal as not a single bird was stirring. The only noises heard were the voices of cottagers checking on each other to see if everyone was okay. No one could believe what they saw in the starlight. But amazingly all the residents were safe and their cottages seemingly in tack. It would take daylight to see the real damage and understand the impact that this derecho had made on our beloved cottage community.

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