The summer of 2013 is going to be a tough one to beat, at least as far as hail is concerned. The damage caused by the Great White Combine is going to be off the scale when everything gets added up.
On the 17th, Brandon Brown stopped by and picked me up for an afternoon of stormwatching west of Airdrie. It was an iffy setup but there was a chance of goodies popping out of the hills so we watched and waited, but nothing much materialized for us. Lethbridge, on the other end of the line, got hit hard by a nasty supercell that blew out right over the city. Wind gusts approaching 140kmh along with hail and torrential rain caused a great deal of damage, then tore a new scar across the land to the east of the city.
July 20th it was our turn.
We took a casual spin on the back roads around Gull Lake out towards Drayton Valley to see what might fly out of the hills, getting to our favorite watching spot in Alder Flats in time to get a bit of a tan before things started up.
The first cell started up to the west of Drayton Valley, a thin band of low level cloud heading west flared up on the west end and quickly turned into a healthy updraft base, then took off east.
We decided to hang back and wait for the next little spot of lift that was still well to the west, and in about 20 minutes it took off, quickly forming up a base, then a wall cloud as it pushed out to the southeast.
From Alder Flats, it chased us southeast at a good clip, not leaving us much time to stand and stare, cycling from looking amazing to looking crummy at least 4 times. The storm to the east that we had we left to watch the west one was still tracking along, looking mean on RADAR but we could not see it in the bush corridor that is hwy#22, until we were almost to Rimbey. It was looking very rude when we finally got sight of it, dropping huge pink bolts of lightning over the north end of Gull Lake and packing a very ugly and big core of what we assumed would be mostly hail.
We stuck with the cell tracking towards Red Deer, hoping the one to the east would slide between towns, and by the time we got to hwy#12 north of Eckville, ours had stretched out into more of a shelfy looking thing but that didn’t last for long. Within 20 minutes it had gathered up into a mean looking beast again, just north of Sylvan Lake and seemed to be picking up speed, taking aim at Red Deer. There was no stopping after than point, we made haste towards the city, watching it get uglier by the minute, then halfway to Red Deer it got really mad. Huge cloud to ground bolts were lighting up a concentrated mass to our north and it looked like we might get mowed before we got home.
No more than 3 minutes after the garage door closed the hail started, mostly dime and quarter sized with a few toonies in there, within 5 minutes it stopped, then a few minutes later we got a short dose of peas and 20mm of rain. When the rain stopped we went to see if we could catch a bolt of lightning or two from the next storm in line, but that didn’t work out so good. Moments after we got the tripods set up we were taking them down, looking over our shoulders at a line of white stuff flying across the city lights to the northwest. We were only a few minutes from home but it still caught us, luckily only torrential rain and big wind.
We went out for a look the next day to see what had happened, trolling around Red Deer for a while, not seeing much but a few trees down, lots of broken branches and general leaf/garden shred. There were reports of golf balls in the city, broken windows and torn up siding, but we didn’t see any.
We decided to do a bit of a trackback of places we passed the day before on our way north, thinking there must be an awful lot of damage to the beautiful crops around Gull Lake, but were completely surprised by what we actually found.
A strip of moderately chewed crops near the Blindman river southwest of Bentley, then nothing but gorgeous thick crops up the west side of Gull Lake. We found a narrow strip of well chewed stuff north of Gull Lake, then found the same strip on the east side of the lake, half way between #53 and #12 which we followed toward Lacombe. Perhaps a mile wide, with a half mile width of heavier shred in the middle to that point, it widened out a whole bunch just a few miles northwest of Lacombe. Suddenly we were seeing a lot of wind damage as well, many big trees blown over, grain bins pushed over, tin roofs peeled back. Canola here had not been pounded flat, but stripped bare, a sign of smaller hail with big wind. Corn and soy beans were beat up pretty good, but not completely hammered into the ground. Although the direction of the wind damage had all been from northwest to southeast on everything we saw up to the QE2, on the north end of Lacombe we saw signs of the wind howling from the south, stripped off canola stalks pointing northeast and a big highway sign broken off northward.
Lacombe itself got pretty lucky from what we saw. Although we heard reports of destroyed siding and broken windows, all we saw on our tour through the north side of town was a lot of broken trees, a few bits of torn off flashing, and maybe a few holes in the siding of a few houses and a great deal of leaf shred along with many pounded gardens. We looked closely for dinged up cars but found none, some dirty cars had good sized clean marks that had obviously been caused by large hail, but it must have been on the soft side. A slow trip trough a car dealership showed only a few tiny dents on a handful of vehicles. We went east of town and south again but didn’t find anything more than chewed up gardens and a few branches down.
The foothills lit up again on the 21st, tricking me into heading west for a look. By the time I got to Spruceview it was obvious they were foothills cheaters and were just riding down the edge of the mountains toward Calgary so I turned around at Raven and went home to watch on the interweb. The meanest looking storm of the day fizzled out and died before it got anywhere close to Calgary.
It’s going to be a billion dollar July for sure.