August produced heaviest hail in 20 years

Just when you thought it was safe to go outside, a storm system in August produced the heaviest hail that Central Alberta has seen in almost 20 years.

Just when you thought it was safe to go outside, a storm system in August produced the heaviest hail that Central Alberta has seen in almost 20 years.

And there is no reason to believe the hail season is finished for the year, says the Red Deer-based meteorologist in charge of hail suppression throughout the region.

Terry Krauss, manager of Weather Modification Inc.’s hail seeding project in Alberta, said on Friday that his planes have already seeded 101 storms this year, compared with an average of 70 per season over the 19 years that the program has been running.

The low-pressure system that swept in on Aug. 7 produced the worst hail his crews have seen in Alberta to date, Krauss said on Friday.

Aug. 8 was the busiest day in 19 years for Weather Modification’s Alberta project, which seeded six supercells. Krauss sent two planes on 10 flights each for a total of 20 hours of seeding.

Funded by a group of companies that insure private properties in Alberta, the hail suppression project was created in response to a heavy storm that hit Calgary on Sept. 7, 1991, causing $343 million in damage. That would be $1.2 billion if it were to happen today, said Krauss.

The Severe Weather Management Society was formed by insurance companies in the belief that cloud seeding could help limit the damage from severe hail storms. Hail seeding involves bombarding clouds with small particles of silver iodide to encourage the formation of smaller, softer hailstones, thus reducing the amount of damage they are capable of causing.

The most expensive storm to strike Alberta so far was a $500-million storm that hit Calgary on Aug. 12, 2012.

Bill Adams, western regional vice-president for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said property damage from the storms on Aug. 7 and 8 this year topped $450 million. That does not include crop claims filed with the Agricultural Financial Services Corp., which operates separately.

The August storm ratchetted up the tally for natural disaster claims in Alberta to $4 billion since 2011, Adams said in a statement issued on Friday.

“While the frequency and severity of weather events have been rising across the country, Alberta has been hardest hit,” said Adams.

“What’s more is that we are not out of the woods yet. Alberta hail season traditionally runs through the end of September.”

Krauss said the tally from the latest storm, which hit hardest at Airdrie, would have been much higher in a more densely-populated area.

The 2014 season started out looking fairly modest, with cool weather and very little hail during June and early July, he said.

However, conditions changed in mid-July with increases in heat and humidity.

Cooler, dryer weather in recent days is a sign that the hail season may be winding down, he said. Officially, the Weather Modification project will wrap up on Sept. 15.

However, that does not mean the threat has gone, said Krauss. Conditions could still bring more storms in the days to come, he said.

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com