GIMLI -- It dropped on top of Lake Winnipeg like a bomb -- an unprecedented weather system that unleashed cyclone-like winds and waves as high as three metres that pounded the shoreline into mulch.

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This article was published 28/10/2010 (4017 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Ann Cook and her flooded property at Stephenson Point.

WAYNE.GLOWACKI@FREEPRESS.MB.CA

Ann Cook and her flooded property at Stephenson Point.

GIMLI -- It dropped on top of Lake Winnipeg like a bomb -- an unprecedented weather system that unleashed cyclone-like winds and waves as high as three metres that pounded the shoreline into mulch.

In a matter of hours on Wednesday the lake level rose more than a metre in the south basin and forced the overnight evacuation of several low-lying areas when access roads flooded.

Waves crashed over earth dikes and rock breakwaters to land almost near lakefront homes and cottages, leaving debris, such as uprooted trees and dead fish, as they retreated.

"The rocks have been picked up and thrown here by the lake," Pelican Beach homeowner Ken Hildebrand said pointing to the mess in his front yard. "I've seen lots of high water, but I've never seen anything like this.

"You couldn't do anything about it. You cannot control the water"

The storm blew in late Tuesday when two weather systems collided over the province, causing the barometric pressure to drop to its lowest-ever recording in the province.

Manitoba's Water Stewardship Minister Christine Melnick said without any barometric pressure, cold winds from the north blew at will with gusts up to more than 90 kilometres per hour whipping up an already swollen north basin of the lake into the much smaller south basin.

Melnick, Gimli NDP MLA Peter Bjornson and other officials toured much of the south basin Thursday, promising quick action to help fix any damage and shore up dikes that failed.

Cook gives Water Stewardship Minister Christine Melnick tour of breached dike.

Cook gives Water Stewardship Minister Christine Melnick tour of breached dike.

"The lake was basically a lake on steroids," the RM of Gimli emergency co-ordinator Don Emes said Thursday an at emergency council briefing. "It blew up."

Besides a perfect storm on the lake, the Gimli area was deluged by 85 millimetres of rain.

"Everybody got nailed by the same thing," Emes said.

Gimli's newly elected council declared the RM a disaster area, a process needed to speed up provincial aid.

"You can have all the plans in the world, but they're thrown out of the window when you have something like this," Emes said.

Across the lake from Victoria Beach to Beaconia, it was the same. Roads were flooded out and low-lying cottage areas surrounded by water as waves pounded an already fragile shoreline.

"I've lived here since 1978 and I've never seen waves that big and winds that strong," Victoria Beach resident Diana Pennington said.

States of emergency were also declared in Winnipegosis and the surrounding RM of Mossey River. A number of homes were evacuated at Sagkeeng First Nation after the bridge over Highway 11 was threatened by rising water.

Premier Greg Selinger toured Winnipegosis on Thursday. "The seniors there said it was the worst they've seen since '54 and worse than that but it's abating quickly, too," Selinger said, adding some locals said the direct northern wind drove the water more than a kilometre inland.

Lake water floods a summer home in Petersfield after the storm this week.

WAYNE.GLOWACKI@FREEPRESS.MB.CA

Lake water floods a summer home in Petersfield after the storm this week.

In Winnipeg Beach, damage was confined to the flooding of a handful of roads and a few low-lying cottages. Most cottages were closed for the winter and for the most part only saw minor flooding on lawns when waves crashed over berms. Damage appeared minimal.

"You should have seen it (Wednesday) night," quipped a municipal worker as he pumped water off the town's waterfront Main Street.

At Stephenson Point immediately to the south, lakefront homeowner Ann Cook took Melnick on a tour of her flood-damaged property, caused when powerful waves broke through an earth dike built three years ago to protect against such things.

"It's unbelievable," Cook said. "The lake was just pouring in. If this freezes over, I'm screwed."

Cook said the province has to do a better job of inspecting and maintaining dikes to safeguard against breaches.

"It's not like the storm came out of nowhere," she said. "We get storms all the time."

Melnick said the province will do just that, and make sure some property owners don't lower or remove dikes.

Petersfield resident Jim Eramchuk said diking must be consistent as some property owners don't have a dike, which threatens those who do.

"They should make it compulsory," he said, as he cleaned up his yard on Netley Creek.

 

-- With files from Larry Kusch and Lindsey Wiebe

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

 

What's a weather bomb?

 

TO understand that, you first need to know the meaning of millibar, a unit for measuring atmospheric pressure.

Generally, lower pressure makes for a storm system with stronger winds and more precipitation. A weather bomb--more common on the East Coast and rare in Central Canada--happens when a storm system's central pressure drops one millibar per hour for 24 hours, or in the case of the system that hit Manitoba and Saskatchewan, 28 millibars in 21 hours.

"What that means is, this storm became very strong and very powerful very quickly," Environment Canada meteorologist Albert Skiba said.

The latest storm set an unusual record for Winnipeg: 967 millibars measured on Tuesday, the lowest pressure ever recorded in the city, Skiba said.

The previous record of 974 was set on Nov. 20, 1962. Records date back to 1953.