Top ten weather stories for 2007: story nine

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9. Record Prairie Hailers

Weather forecasters were kept busy on the Prairies with the most active summer ever for severe weather. Abundant spring rains followed by excessive heat and humidity and an active jet stream was the perfect recipe for violent weather. Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba had the most number of summer severe weather events ever (410 in total) eclipsing the previous high of 297 set only last year. Especially frequent were the number of hail events, setting record numbers for all three provinces.

It was a “hail” of a summer for the insurance sector. Summer storms pulverized crops, battered homes and businesses and pockmarked vehicles at a rate not seen in more than a decade. According to the Canadian Crop Hail Association, Albertans filed over 4,700 crop-related hail claims - the highest ever by far, exceeding $60 million or 27 per cent more than that collected from premiums. Saskatchewan counted nearly 14,000 crop-damaged hail claims, exceeding the five-year average but lower than the total recorded in 2006. Total payouts were estimated at $115 million for an 87 per cent loss-to-premium ratio. Hail storms were so frequent in Saskatchewan that many farmers reported multiple hits, especially in the Kindersley and Biggar area. In some instances, the first claim was still being settled when hailers struck a second or third time. The frequency of storms was up and so was the severity. In places, crops were totaled and property damage was extensive to homes, vehicles and farm equipment. Next door in Manitoba, crop claims topped $14 million, shattering the previous record of $10.6 million in 2002. Total claims were just shy of 5,000, which was very close to the record in 2000.

The most spectacular hailer occurred on August 9 in Dauphin, Manitoba and nearby communities. The 30-minute storm featured a multitude of lightning flashes, intense rain, screaming winds and enormous hailstones - some the size of grapefruits. Around Grandview, Roblin and Ste. Rose, it took only minutes to destroy healthy crops only days from harvest. In Dauphin, the storm triggered about 13,000 claims to Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) with an estimated loss of $53 million - one of the single largest catastrophic events in MPI history. More than 60 per cent of damaged vehicles in town were total write-offs. Truckloads of replacement windshields and dozens of workers were brought in from Brandon and Winnipeg to handle repairs. Most buildings suffered dented roofs and lost shingles. Contractors estimated property repairs could take as long as two years to complete. The hailer shredded backyard gardens into cole slaw, denuded trees, smashed greenhouses and punched fist-size holes in once-inflatable plastic roofs.

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