Severe weather events worsening in Calgary: hail suppression expert

Photo of a cloudburst during a thunderstorm near Calgary, Alta. on Thursday, June 14, 2019.
Photo of a cloudburst during a thunderstorm near Calgary, Alta. on Thursday, June 14, 2019. Courtesy: Peter Mentzelopoulos

For many Calgarians, the 2020 thunderstorm season has seemed endless. While hail suppression teams say they’ve recorded an average number of storms this year, they are noticing a shift in the severity of the weather events.

Teams with the Alberta Hail Suppression Project take to the skies when bad thunderstorms are rolling in with the aim of reducing hail size and, in turn, the damage it could cause.

Read more: Severe flooding, damage in Calgary after thunderstorm Saturday

“It appears to be getting more severe,” project member and Alberta Severe Weather Management Society director Terry Kraus said.

The hail suppression project started in 1996, but it’s been in the last decade that the storms they respond to have been worsening, and becoming more frequent.

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“There seems to be more frequent severe storms because our high statistics, or severe storms and operations, it’s increasing,” Kraus said.

“In 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016, [we saw higher numbers of storms]. So, the conditions seem to be more severe within the last 10 years.”

Kraus said there’s been a trough of low pressure looming over Calgary this spring and summer — paired with high humidity — which has led to an increase in the number of thunderstorm watches issued on days where there’s potential for severe storms.

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According to Environment Canada, the number of severe weather reports the agency received from 2000 to 2019 increased significantly, from an average of 50 to 60 a year in 2000 to 160 to 180 reports last year.

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But that’s not necessarily because there’s been more weather events.

“This is likely, at least partially, a reflection of the smartphone explosion allowing more people to more easily report severe weather events to Environment Canada,” meteorologist Blaine Lowry said.

Read more: ‘It’s an emotional thing’: Calgary residents with hail-damaged homes flock to community support centre

Lowry also said there have been more severe weather watches issued for the city of Calgary this year compared to last year, with six being issued in 2019 versus the 11 that have gone out so far this year.

Room for improvement on storm response: councillor

According to Ward 5 Councillor George Chahal, who represents many of the residents whose homes were badly damaged in the June 13 storm, various levels of government “can do better” when it comes to responding to the increase in severe weather needs.

Chahal, who has been advocating for more financial support for homeowners affected by the June storm, said he’s bringing a notice of motion to Calgary city council on Monday asking for a review of the federal relief program.

“[I want] to make sure that we are offering the right supports, but also we need to have a conversation with the insurance industry and the brokers to ensure residents and businesses are adequately covered,” he said.
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Chahal also said he’s hoping to see improvements to the emergency alert systems and infrastructure, like homes and buildings, so people will be more prepared when damaging storms roll through.

“I’m working with our emergency management team and Environment Canada to have better and more sophisticated alert systems. [I’m also] working with the insurance industry to collect the data and to have more data on where these storms are happening and what frequencies, and then we can develop a plan,” he said.

Damage from storms worsening

As the storms appear to be worsening, so too is the damage they leave behind in their wake.

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The June 13 storm was the costliest hailstorm in Canadian history, and according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, that’s a growing trend in Alberta storms.

Read more: Northeast Calgary residents warned of fly-by-night contractors in wake of devastating hailstorm

“In the last decade, the average cost for severe weather across Canada have been about $1.9 billion [per year],” IBC director of consumer and industry relations Rob de Pruis said.

“This year in Alberta alone, it looks [like] those costs could be exceeding $2 billion.”

As there’s still about half of the thunderstorm season yet to go for Alberta, everyone is hoping for a slower second phase and less severe storms that bring extensive damage.