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Canada's Top Ten Weather Stories for 2008

Table of Contents

6. Hail of a Summer for Growers

Map of Canada with affected regions highlighted

A series of hailstorms hammered crops and orchards across Canada this summer. Ontario growers of tender fruit and grapes couldn't remember more pelting times. In British Columbia's Okanagan, growers – already big losers from April cold – saw fruit badly bruised and trees rattled by hail in early July that caused some orchardists to lose 40 per cent of their fruit. Across the Prairies, the Canadian Crop Hail Association made record payments to western producers of more than $341 million. Quebec and the Maritimes were largely spared the "white combine." In Oka, just southwest of Montreal, an early June swath of hail damaged orchards and property. More hail reports came later in June from Lanaudiere and east of Montreal.

Surprisingly, southern Canada lacked the warm humid weather often associated with summer hail. However, cooler air in the upper atmosphere – along with relatively warm air at the surface – generated enough instability and unsettled weather to spawn pop-up thunderstorms with torrential rains, damaging winds and hail. Hail damage occurred often across Ontario over wide areas, sometimes three or four times, and affected a variety of crops. Agricore reported unprecedented crop hail losses in 2008 in terms of both the severity and frequency of damage. Both the number of reports and acreage damaged were in excess of four times the previous five-year average. The Ontario Tender Fruit Board claimed there wasn't an orchard in Ontario that wasn't touched by hail in 2008. Even apple farmers felt the sting, with some of their crop reduced to products for apple sauce at half the price.

On June 9, a severe storm ripped through Chatham-Kent, pummeling wheat, corn and soybeans, and pock-marking hundreds of vehicles with golf-ball sized hail. Aluminum siding and roofs also took a beating. Just two weeks later, the same communities were slammed again. On July 22, a brief but severe thunderstorm hailed down on areas around Grimsby and Winona in the Niagara-St. Catharines region. At one orchard, 80 per cent of the peaches and pears were lost. A front-end loader was even called to the scene in Grimsby to clear out drifts of gumball-sized hail that looked like a winter cover, marking the first time the town had ever pulled out a front-end loader for action in the summer. Twelve hours after the hailstorm, some backyards were still buried under 8 cm of nickel-sized hail steaming in the warm air. Other farms lost fields of beans and cucumbers just days before canning. Another hailer on August 2 struck the Grand Bend area on Lake Huron and south of London. One grower said it was the most intense hailstorm he'd ever seen. Another soybean grower commented that "it looked like somebody went through with a mower and just chopped the top off the plants." The damage was so bad that three weeks later there hadn't been any new growth.

Several producers on the Prairies were hit with hail on two or more occasions. In some places, crops were totaled and property damage was extensive to homes, vehicles and farm equipment. Prairie-wide, more than 29,000 claims were filed. Loss ratios were very high in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but considerably lighter in Manitoba. Albertans filed in excess of 4,800 hail claims, edging past the record set last year. Further, it was the highest total payout to Alberta producers at $98.6 million (47 per cent more than that collected from premiums). In mid-July, hail wiped out roughly half of the famous Taber corn crop and much of the grain and specialty vegetable crops. Taber farmers lost millions of dollars when entire fields of corn were shredded by the hail. Hail insurance payouts to Saskatchewan growers were the highest in history, at approximately $228 million, for a loss-to-premium ratio of 129 per cent. Nearly 21,000 claims were filed – 7,000 more than last year. The acreage affected was also a record. On virtually every day in July, hail occurred somewhere in Saskatchewan. Massive storms on July 9 and 10 pounded many of the same areas. Claims from those two days alone were estimated at $80 million.