A hailstorm wreaked havoc in Alberta this week, hammering drivers and leaving rural communities to survey crop damage in the aftermath.
Jesse Wagar, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said several thunderstorm and tornadoes warnings were in effect in central and southern Alberta on Monday afternoon and into the evening. Parts of Red Deer County were peppered with softball-sized hail, measuring about 10 centimetres, while other areas saw baseball-, tennis- and nickel-sized hail fall from the sky.
“The energy that a hailstone that size comes down with is just incredible,” Ms. Wagar said. “I’ve been doing this for over 10 years and this is probably one of the biggest hailstorms, for hail size and hail swath, that I’ve ever seen.”
The hailstorm followed other extreme weather blanketing Western Canada: Alberta and B.C. were under extreme heat warnings for much of last week with temperatures hitting 40 C in some areas. Earlier in July, significant storms brought on tornadoes that levelled an entire home in rural Alberta and, in June, torrential rains prompted a state of emergency in Calgary.
RCMP spokesperson Gina Slaney said at least 34 vehicles were damaged by hail in the Innisfail area, south of Red Deer, but the number could be higher. She said most known injuries are minor but one man suffered a cut to the side of his neck, one woman experienced a panic attack and another man went into shock. Three collisions took place, she added.
One video posted to social media shows three people hiding under what looks like a backpack and a blanket, as hail cracks their windshield and crashes through the rear window, forcing glass and smaller pieces of hail into the vehicle. The man who posted the video said they were about five kilometres south of Gasoline Alley in Red Deer.
Other photos and videos posted online shows large dents in the hoods of vehicles, spiderweb-cracked glass and windshields completely destroyed. There are also visuals posted of vehicles abandoned on the side of the road, seemingly unable to operate.
Cody McIntosh, Red Deer County’s agricultural services manager, said he saw about half a dozen vehicles abandoned on the side of the Queen Elizabeth II Highway early Tuesday morning with damaged windows and roofs caved in. He said they are still assessing the storm’s impact to crops, but he has been surprised so far to see minimal damage.
“These large hailstones – while they do a lot of damage to property – may not have been that bad on fields,” Mr. McIntosh said. “We’re kind of assuming they that they may have been further spread apart and they weren’t flattening crops but punching holes in it, so the damage might be a little less.”
Julian Brimelow, executive director of Western University’s Northern Hail Project, said the project has satellites flying over the affected area that show hail scars to farmer’s fields. In the coming days, he said it will become more clear how much damage was done.
“It’s an over 100 kilometre-long swatch, so we expect to see a nasty looking hail scar on the satellite imagery in the next few days,” Mr. Brimelow said, adding that there has already been some significant damage from previous hailstorms this year.
His team collected hailstones on Monday and is storing them in a deep freezer in Red Deer to later weigh and measure. Preliminary measurements show the axis of some pellets were close to 11 centimetres. While this size hailstone is more common in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Mr. Brimelow said it is rare to see it in Alberta.
“The Edmonton tornado back in ‘87 – it was very similar to yesterday in terms of hail size. That was actually the last time, that I can think of, that we had so many large stones in the province, so it’s quite an exceptional event,” he said.
Ms. Wagar said severe storms usually taper out by mid-August, but Albertans should brace for stronger weather in the coming weeks, as is typical for this time of year. She is urging residents to be vigilant and have a safety plan in place should severe weather, such as tornadoes or hailstorms, occur.
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