Three of the past four hail seasons have been ‘very active’

Three of the most expensive hail seasons in Agriculture Financial Services Corporation’s 77-year history have occurred in the last eight years.

Large hail

Large hail

Three of the most expensive hail seasons in Agriculture Financial Services Corporation’s 77-year history have occurred in the last eight years.

But a meteorologist cautions about drawing too much significance from that trend given Alberta weather’s notoriously fickle nature.

Environment Canada meteorologist Bill McMurtry said three of the last four hail seasons have been “very active,” not just in Alberta but across the Prairies.

“It can go in cycles. You can have four or five years of below-average numbers, then you go into a cycle of above-average.

“There’s no real indication as to why that would occur per se. There’s no real one thing we can look back and say, because of this, this is why we had a more active season this year.”

The warm summer we’ve had this year can add to weather instability. However, high temperatures have not always been behind big hail years.

While global warming is frequently blamed by the public for severe weather events, McMurtry said one shouldn’t assume connections between hail and long-term climate change.

“It’s really important to keep sort of a moderate approach and say we’re not sure. We have seen some high hail numbers over the last few years, and that is cyclical, and we can show numbers within the last decade where we’re well below normal.

“There is not a steady trend in any direction.”

One of the reasons Environment Canada is seeing more hail reports is the prevalence of smartphones, tablets and other devices that make it so easy to pass on weather information.

It is not uncommon for people to upload photos of severe weather while it is happening, enabling Environment Canada to instantly analyze the information and put out warnings, if necessary.

Plenty of photos were posted online after the Aug. 7 hail storm that blew through Central Alberta from Red Deer to Airdrie. It produced hail stones as big as golf balls in some areas.

Jackie Sanden, of Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC), said 2012 was the record claim year for the Crown corporation, with $445.6 million paid out on 8,400 claims. The second worst year was 2008, with $265 million on 7,600 claims, and last year came in third, with $257 million in crop damage in connection with 6,400 claims.

The reasons remain as much an unknown to insurers as they are to other weather watchers.

“It’s just what Mother Nature has going on,” said Sanden, AFCS’s area program co-ordinator.

This year is shaping up to be a bad year for hail damage, with about 6,000 claims on 1.5 million acres in the database so far, with at least another prime hail month to go.

“At this point we’re not near records, but we’re certainly above average for the last 10 years.”

Hail insurance, like any other insurance, means higher premiums in hard-hit areas. AFSC determines premium rates based on townships rather than spreading increases across the whole province.

“Over the past several years rates have gone up in areas where there has been severe damage. That’s the nature of insurance.”

Likewise, areas that have been spared hail damage have seen rates drop.

Records are based on dollar amounts, which have not been adjusted for inflation, so amounts will rise naturally over time as crop values increase.

How this year fares for payments will not be known until late September or early October.