Canada's top 10 weather stories for 2014: chapter 7


7. Airdrie to Calgary Hailer

On the afternoons of August 7 and 8, severe thunderstorms developed along the Alberta foothills and began tracking eastward towards Calgary and Medicine Hat. The storms also produced strong winds, including a brief but intense low-level rotating outflow (a.k.a. gustnado) northeast of Calgary and at Buffalo, Alberta, packing winds of 140 km/h on August 8. The weather was unusual on two fronts - it featured golf ball- to baseball-sized hail driven by strong winds and a storm whose swirling path meant some properties were hit three times in the course of an hour. Further, the impacted area stretched more than 250 km across central Alberta, making it one of the largest hail-stricken areas from a single storm in 20 years.

Hail on lawn.

©Environment Canada

On August 7, the community of Airdrie, 40 km north of Calgary, was hit hardest, with six people being injured badly enough by the hail to require hospitalization and almost every household reporting damage. Hailstones broke shingles, punched through siding and eaves, smashed windows and lights, and dented roofs on vehicles and buildings. More than half the damaged vehicles were total write-offs. It also smashed tomatoes, squashed squash, shredded flowers and hanging baskets, and denuded trees. There was so much hail, it looked like the ground was covered with snow. Slushy hail drifts piled up along the highways and were still evident the next day. Roadways in some communities were flooded when sewers backed up. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, property damage from the intense storm topped $450 million (not including crop claims filed separately to crop insurers and provincial disaster agencies). With some crops smashed right to the ground, many farmers in southern Alberta said this "white combine" was the worst and most damaging in 80 years.

Of the primary severe weather categories for summer − winds, tornadoes, heavy rain and hail - by far the greatest number of weather events on the Prairies this year involved hail (nearly 60 per cent). In total, there were 187 severe hail events reported: 84 in Alberta; 64 in Saskatchewan; and 39 in Manitoba. The storms were so violent and expansive that, according to the Canadian Crop Hail Association, over 13,300 crop-related hail claims were filed with total payouts of $250 million - 45 per cent more than last year and with average claims also up 42 per cent from 2013.

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