Alberta gets more hail than anywhere else in Canada, with most hailstorms forming over the foothills. The three key ingredients for hailstorms are soil moisture, surface heating, and a triggering mechanism, such as an approaching weather system or a dry breeze that flows down from the mountains, clashing with moisture over the foothills to trigger a storm.
High soil moisture across much of Alberta increases the risk of hail. With crops finally in the ground and another hail season fast approaching, farmers are hoping speculation that 2011 could be an active hail year for Alberta proves to be wrong.
“A lot of farmers have been telling me they’re concerned this could be a big hail year because of the extra moisture we’ve had across the province this spring once all the snow melted and it rained on fields that hadn’t dried out from last year,” says Brian Tainsh, Provincial Adjusting Manager with Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC), the Crown Corporation that administers crop and hail insurance in Alberta on behalf of the provincial and federal governments.
Soil moisture is especially high across southern Alberta and along the foothills west of Highway 2, from Drayton Valley down to the U.S. border. “Experience has shown when there’s this much moisture lying around, you can often wind-up with a fair bit of hail,” says Tainsh.
Geoff Strong, a meteorologist and adjunct professor at the University of Alberta who studies thunderstorms and hail formation across the province, agrees that increased moisture on the ground increases the risk of hail. “With the soil moisture we have in many parts of the province, I think we’ll see some fairly active hailstorms throughout the summer,” says Strong, explaining the more saturated the soil becomes, the more humidity that grain crops, soggy fields, and other vegetation release into the air, feeding hail-producing thunderstorms. “I expect we’ll see the most hail activity in central and southern Alberta where it’s the wettest, and less in regions that are drier. Of course, the more it rains in any area of the province, the more the hail risk increases.”
With soil moisture high along the foothills in early June, from Drayton Valley down to the U.S. border, that extra moisture could easily produce hailstorms in the coming weeks that move easterly across central, southern and northeastern Alberta – intensifying as they pick up more moisture over the crop zones, explains Strong.
Last summer proved that even cool, wet weather can produce large amounts of hail. Hailstorms blanketed much of Alberta with crop damage reported in almost every part of the province due to frequent rain throughout the growing season. AFSC paid out more than $164 million in hail claims. Even the Peace region was hit by a few hailstorms, despite dry conditions.
“We’re hiring 10 more adjusters than last year, for a total adjusting force of about 140 people. They’re all equipped with GPS units and laptops, so they can file claims right from the field – making the process as efficient as possible so farmers can get paid quickly,” says Tainsh.
A large number of producers purchased hail insurance online last year – more than 10 per cent of all Straight Hail policies. “This will only be the second year that we’ve offered the online option. We’re expecting a lot of repeat and first-time users because of the two percent premium discount and the flexibility of having access to hail protection day or night, without having to drive into town.”
AFSC Straight Hail insurance is available at any time once crops emerge, and takes effect the next day at noon after a policy is written. For more information about hail coverage, producers can contact their nearest AFSC office, hail agent, or call the AFSC Call Centre at 1-877-899-AFSC (2372).