CALGARY- After several devastating hailstorms over the past few summers, hail suppression experts are gearing up for the possibility of another summer of severe weather across southern Alberta.
“In the last seven years, it’s been increasingly worse,” said Daniel Gilbert, chief meteorologist at Weather Modification Inc. “Warmer and more moisture and a lot more hailstorms. All our project stats show a significant increase in the amount of hail damage and if you look at the amount of crop insurance claims, that indicates the same thing.”
Calgary has a reputation as being the hailstorm capital of Canada. Last summer, a vicious hailstorm in Calgary and Airdrie cost insurance companies n estimated $560 million while in 2012, a hail and windstorm led to over $550 million dollars in insurance payouts. And in July 2010, a severe hailstorm resulted in 62,000 insurance claims totaling $400 million.
This summer, Alberta insurance companies are pooling their resources to pay for the $4.5 million budget for weather suppression flights.
The insurance providers say Albertans pay less because of weather modification activities like cloud seeding. Cloud seeing sees pilots dispensing the chemical silver iodide to induce hail early and before it develops into larger, more destructive hailstones. Last August, five planes spent 23 hours dispensing a record amount of silver iodide on a major hailstorm over Airdrie.
“That $500 million damage, even if we knock that down by 1 per cent, would pay for the whole project all season,” said Gilbert.
Pilots who work in the field of weather suppression say battling mother nature can sometimes make for a bumpy ride.
“We keep seeding even if there is tornadic activity,” said Jake Mitchum, a pilot at Weather Modification Inc. “That is where it gets the most hairy probably.”
“I give them the information they need to get to the right storm… the priority storm hitting the largest city to do the most good,” said Gilbert. “And keep them out of harm’s way… make sure they don’t get boxed in and closed into a bad situation.”