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Severe summer weather cost $300 million in damages

Central Alberta among regions hit by near-weekly severe weather

Catastrophic storms across Western Canada this summer caused more than $300 million in insured damages, say insurers.

That initial tally comes from Toronto-based Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc. (CatlQ), which delivers detailed analytical and meteorological information on Canadian natural and human-made catastrophes. under licence to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC).

“It’s definitely a big deal. It seems like there was a new event every week or so over the summer,” said Rob de Pruis, IBC’s national director of consumer and industry relations.

Most ominously, it looks like annual extreme weather damage costs that can be measured in the hundreds of millions — if not the billions — are here to stay.

From 1983 to 2008, extreme weather damage payouts averaged around $422 million a year in Canada. In the last decade, the number is now more than $2 billion a year. That only counts damage to homes, businesses and vehicles. Crop damage is paid out through other government programs.

Between 2019-21, the average cost of hail damage over those three years has been more than $870 million annually. Eighty-five per cent of that damage happened in Alberta, led by the Calgary hailstorm of 2020 that did $1.2 billion in damage, ranking it the most costliest hailstorm in Canada’s history.

The damage estimates are almost certainly on the low side. Not everyone has insurance coverage and some may choose not to make a claim.

If not for the Red Deer Regional Airport-based cloud seeding planes of the insurance industry-funded Alberta Severe Weather Management Society — which have been in action for 25 years — the damage would likely have been considerably worse, said de Pruis.

“The unreported damage is not easy to quantify because we just don’t know.”

Since more severe weather is likely here to stay, de Pruis said people should think about ways to protect themselves and their belongings. Put vehicles, lawn furniture and other movable things under cover when a severe storm approaches. Stay off the roads and avoid driving through flooded sections of roads and consider impact-resistant roofing and siding.

After the 2020 Calgary hailstorm, the city offered rebates up to $3,000 for those upgrading their roofing and siding.

De Pruis sees an opportunity for a broader discussion about what Canadians can do to about responding to future severe weather.

“Really, this is a sobering reminder of the increasing risks facing Red Deer and other communities in Alberta and across Canada,” he said. “There are long-term impacts of a changing climate that we’re seeing and must be addressed.

“We need to look at some long-term strategies like not allowing people to build in known flood plains, for example,” he said, upgrading building codes in areas subject to high winds to make homes stronger.

The insurance industry tries to keep premiums in check by spreading the risk over large geographical areas. But rising inflation, which boosts the cost of repairs or replacement, can have an impact on rates.

Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) president Paul McLauchlin said they offer their own insurance to municipalities so the increasing frequency of severe weather is of obvious concern.

“This is definitely on our radar, both from a local municipal standpoint and from a business perspective,” said McLauchlin. “It’s a huge focus of our members for sure.”

Changing weather patterns also appear to be widening the province’s so-called hail belt. While it once stretched from south of Calgary to Red Deer, it has now extended much further north.

“We’ve seen damaging hail all the way up to Grande Prairie, which has not been the meteorological history that we have in Alberta.”

There are also seem to more micro wind events, which produce blasts of wind up to 200 km/h in some cases.

All of this seems to be having an effect on Albertans’ attitudes towards climate change, with more recognizing its impact in the last few years, he said.

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Paul Cowley

About the Author: Paul Cowley

Paul grew up in Brampton, Ont. and began his journalism career in 1990 at the Alaska Highway News in Fort. St. John, B.C.
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