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Prairie farmers hard-hit by summer hail

Staff writers
November 26, 2012 — The Weather Network's Kelsey McEwen reports that this summer brought some of the best growing conditions for farmers in the prairies -- but the hot and humid weather also meant hail was a huge concern. Crop damage claims skyrocketed in all three prairie provinces, with insurance companies paying out around 280 million dollars collectively.

Prairie storms can bring large hail -- bad news for farmers' crops.
Prairie storms can bring large hail -- bad news for farmers' crops.

Prairie farmers are looking back at what was rough season for hail damage.

On Kyle Lahd's farm in Alberta's Vulcan County, snow was on the ground but the skies were clear this week as he fixed up his old barn.

But the farmer says in summertime, when the crops are in full bloom, it's a different story.

If the conditions are right, summer storms can bring sometimes large hail, bad news for the crop.

"You're never safe until the grain is in the bin," Lahd says. "And when you see the warnings and see the clouds, it's very nerve wracking to see if it's going to hit you."

Hail can form high in the atmosphere and fall during severe thunderstorms, particularly when the heat and humidity are high.

Weather Network meteorologist Dayna Vettese says the stronger the rising air, the longer the hail stones can stay suspended in the air and grow larger.

"This summer and spring in the Canadian Prairies, we had enough vertical motion and strong storms that we were able to form very large hail," she said.

Despite being outside of the high-risk zone, two severe storms hit Lahd's farm, taking out half his crop.

Most farmers take out crop hail insurance. In 2012, insurers paid out around $280 million on 21,600 claims.

That's significantly up from 2011, when the figure was $164 million on 15,000 claims.

In Alberta, 5,500 claims were filed, more than double last year's numbers.

But even with insurers, farmers feel the hit, especially this year's crop is expected to fetch a good price.

George Jackson, for example, lost nearly a third of the acreage on his farm near Calgary. 

"It wasn't a year you wanted hail, because you're never quite insured to the point you would have. The return is not the same," he said.

Insurance rates may not necessarily go up because of this year's high pay outs, but after taking a significant financial hit, farmers are still nervous about next year.

"Your partner, being mother nature, it's unpredictable. She's hard to work with sometimes," Jackson says.

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