Cloud seeding to mitigate damage

Severe weather season has started across the prairie provinces and while many like to watch a good thunderstorm from a distance, insurance companies don’t like one aspect of the storms, large hail.

Since 1996 the insurance industry has been funding the Alberta Hail Suppression Project in an effort to cut down on property losses from large hail stones.

Courtesy: Weather Modification Inc. — Alberta Hail Suppression Project

“It was created because of a hail storm that hit Calgary in 1991 that did 342 million dollars of damage,” said Terry Krauss who is Project Director for the Alberta Severe Weather Management Society.

Weather Modification Inc. uses five twin-engine planes stationed near Red Deer and Calgary to fly near the feeder clouds on the edges of thunderstorms and dispense silver iodide.

“With the (silver iodide) smoke we start creating between 100 or 1000 ice crystals per litre of cloud air, instead of nature which starts one ice crystal per litre,” according to Krauss.

What that means is instead of large golf ball or even baseball sized hail, you end up with pea-sized hail which isn’t harmful to homes or vehicles.

Is it effective? Krauss says the insurance companies sure think so with more than 9 out of 10 insurance firms in Alberta are supporting what they do.

He notes an August 2012 storm hit northwest Calgary and did more than a half billion dollars in damage and two years later another hail storm hit Airdrie and did more than 500 million dollars in damage again.

“A one percent reduction in hail damage pays for the program and we’re showing results of 20 per cent or greater.”

While the focus is now on saving urban property, cloud seeding first started to protect crops.

Krauss was part of the Alberta Research Council’s first project in 1974 to 1985 funded by Alberta Agriculture.

He says crop damage at the time was maybe 50 million dollars a year, a lot less than recent storms that have hit around Calgary.

“We still had that 20 per cent reduction,” says Krauss, who notes the program was ended due to cuts in government spending.

Krauss also says unlike homes and vehicles pea sized hail can still destroy a crop when accompanied by strong winds.

So how is this storm season shaping up?

“It’s just ramping up, we start June 1 and go until September 15,” Krauss tells Rural Roots Canada, “We’ve been up seeding storms three days (as of June 20).”

Peak hail season is July and August.