Cloud seeders soar to record year

Cloud seeders have tackled more hail storms over Central Alberta this summer than ever in the 16 years since their project was started.

Cloud seeders have tackled more hail storms over Central Alberta this summer than ever in the 16 years since their project was started.

A group of insurance companies formed the Alberta Severe Weather Management Society in 1996 in an attempt to limit the damage from hail claims, particularly in Red Deer and Calgary, the most densely-populated points within a target area stretching from Lacombe to High River.

With just under four weeks left in its 2011 season, the project has already had its busiest year yet, project director Terry Krauss said from his Red Deer office on Thursday.

“This is our 16th season and it’s by far the busiest,” he said.

“We are past peak hail season, but for sure we’ll be up again.”

This year’s numbers are so much higher than normal, the society has been draining its rainy day fund to pay for the work, he said.

Its four hired airplanes and crews, two based at the Red Deer Regional Airport and two more at Calgary, have seeded 128 hail storms since the 2011 project was launched on June 1, including one storm that tracked through on Wednesday, said Krauss.

They seeded on 42 different days, taking 186 flights and spending a total of 390 hours in the air.

That’s a hefty increase over 2010, with another month to go before the project wraps up for the season, he said. Last year, cloud seeders went up on 42 different days in total, seeding 118 storms. They made 91 flights totalling 270 hours.

On average, the project seeds 89 storms over 30 seeding days, 100 flights and 200 hours in the air, said Krauss.

His group hires airplanes and experts from North Dakota-based Weather Modification Inc. to track and tackle the storms from June 1 through Sept. 15.

Krauss is quick to correct the perception that cloud seeding actually modifies the weather.

Hail storms are going to produce the same amount of moisture and track in the same direction regardless of whether they are seeded or not, he said.

The objective is to reduce the size of the hailstones so they will not be as devastating as they would be otherwise.

Small particles of inert chemical injected into the storm encourage the stones to form and fall more quickly, rather than clumping into larger stones that are capable of significantly more damage.

Insurance companies have seen far fewer claims in the 16 seasons that Severe Weather Management has been running the project, said Krauss.

The storm that kicked the project into gear struck in Calgary on Sept. 7, 1991, causing $343 million in damages. That is equal to more than $800 million in 2011 dollars, he said.

“That’s the storm that brought the insurance industry to its knees.”

Damage after the first five years of the weather management project was about half what had been anticipated, so the program was extended for another five years and has since been extended again, said Krauss.

The only storm that has come close since the hail seeding project was launched struck in Calgary on July 12, 2010, causing about $500 million in damage.

“Our goal was to prevent the next record hail storm from occurring, and so far we’ve been able to do that,” said Krauss.