Hail Alley is right here in central Alberta – stretching from Red Deer to Calgary.
Hence, the only cloud seeding program in Canada exists in Alberta.
Terry Krauss, project director of the Alberta Severe Weather Management Society, which runs the program, said even though other provinces have hailstorms, they don’t experience the same frequency and severity as Alberta does.
“The most frequent severe hailstorms are right here. This is called Hail Alley in central Alberta,” he said.
There are five cloud seeding aircrafts operated by about 10 to 12 pilots. Two of the aircrafts are based at the Red Deer Regional Airport, and the other three are at the Springbank Airport, west of Calgary.
The society has its own weather radar system at the Olds-Didsbury Airport and keeps track of daily forecasts for tracking and analysing data.
This is the 25th year of the program, which is funded by insurance companies in Alberta with the aim to prevent property damage.
The 24-year average is six days of walnut-sized hail, five days of golf-ball-size hail and one day with greater than golf-ball-size hail.
“In 2012, we had 22 days with golf-ball-sized hail and two with larger. And even in 2014, (we had) 18 days with golf-ball and four days with larger. So there has been a tendency within the past 10 years for more severe storms,” Krauss said.
“The severe weather conditions have intensified and the frequency of severe hailstorms with golf-ball sized hails or larger has gone up.”
This year has been average. So far, the cloud seeders have seeded 60 storms on 18 days.
Ideally, about 30 minutes before a storm hits, cloud seeding pilots head up in the skies in hopes of providing damage control.
Krauss said the goal is to convert all hail to pea-sized hail.
The aircrafts dispense silver iodide smoke particles using flares, which initiate ice crystals. The crystals compete for water in the cloud, so the giant-sized hail is downgraded to smaller pieces.
“Mother Nature only provides one ice crystal per litre of cloudy air at -20 C, so there’s a lot of liquid water and not nearly as much ice,” Krauss said.
“So we initiate many ice particles to compete for the liquid water, and it actually improves the precipitation process; makes rain easier, rather than large, damaging hail.”
The program covers the Ponoka area in the north, High River in the south, as well as the foothills of the Rockies and Rocky Mountain House and Sundre area.