Alberta Foothills Weather

July 8 – Hail week

No shortage of activity for the first week of July in Alberta and hail has been the story almost every day.
Stifling heat and humidex numbers over 40 for a lot of the province kept me in the nice cool basement on the 2nd, watching a few nice cells try to bust through the thermonuclear cap that was parked over southern Alberta.

Some early activity on the 4th got me out by Rimbey for a look at some interesting bits pushing around in the Medicine Hills before the guts fell out, unloading a pile of hail between Gull Lake and Rimbey and casting off a chilly gust in all directions. It stretched out into a line that eventually pushed all the way out to the foothills as it moved south, but with cold outflow way out in front of the goodies I bailed out at Innisfail and got home in time to catch the prettiest storm I’ve seen this year, on the twitternet. A classic supercell had rolled out of the hills west of Nanton, and the photos were flowing, like this one. Awesome but too far away.
July 5th was loaded with hail for southern Alberta. Airdrie got a taste first, then Lethbridge got it pretty good, then Taber got dumped on, photos flowing into the twitterverse of cars floating around in hail swamps.

The biggest story of the weather week came on the 6th when what had to be a green monster came roaring out of the hills and drew a bead on Airdrie. The photos that started to show up on the #abstorm feed were quite a surprise, it suddenly looked like winter in Airdrie, then photos from Irricana started to show up. A foot of hail covered the landscape, leaving a 60-70 km long stripe up to a km wide that could be seen from space. I was glad I had things to do that day in town and didn’t get caught up in that crazy thing.

We went down for a tour of the scene the next day and wow what a mess. Expecting a crowd of other interested folks out for a look, we went down hwy#21 and in from the east, first crossing the path a few miles south of hwy9 where it had mowed over a hutterite colony and mulched the crops pretty good. It’s pretty easy to identify the edges of a wicked hailstorm when it crosses a highway, the piles of gravel spewed out onto the pavement were unmissable. We stopped by to visit our old friend the XSM RADAR site to see if it had been bruised but everything was looking healthy around there. We came across spots that looked like they had been touched on the drive north from xsm but then we found the south edge of the hail trail. You smell it first, freshly cut hay.

It was 19 hours after the storm had cleared, but rivers were flowing through fields like it had just stopped. We found the north edge and then headed west toward Irricana, only seeing a few little hail drifts along the way.
A pretty amazing scene awaited right at Irricana, there was still a lot of hail laying around, feet of it in drifts and ditches full of it, 20 hours later after most of a 20C day. The ditches had been mowed by the hail, piles of shredded grass on the shoulders of the roads. We took a spin back east on twp 274, the core had gone right down it, making a terrible mess of the many trees that line the road. Crops along this road were completely smashed to bits, mostly unidentifiable, looking like they had just been harvested, nothing left but the stubs of the rows that suggested it wasn’t a hay field. Although we didn’t find anything larger than about 10mm in the deep drifts, there were a few houses along 274 that had certainly been whacked with close to golfball size, holes in the siding tell the tale. A lot of debarking in spots along the road, some places worse than others, and quite a few sore looking birds. I can’t even imagine how many did not make it through that maelstrom.

Probably the most surprising sight was the town of Irricana itself. The amount of leaf shred laying in the streets and stuck to people’s houses and roofs was really something to see. Drifts of hail were still everywhere, kids were out playing in it, throwing it around. One would think there would be insane property damage to see, but no.
We saw one hole in a piece of siding on a building on the northeast side and that was it, could have been 5 years old too. We had a good look around to try and find another but could not, no broken windows, no dents in any cars we looked at. Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but normally when you enter a town that has just been run over, these signs are everywhere and hard to miss. Irricana got very lucky from what we saw.

Lethbridge has been getting more than it’s share of the hard white stuff this year, they got covered with it on the 6th after Irricana got theirs,from a different storm, then another big dose of it early on the 8th.
That’s a lot of stormin’ already and the season is only a week old… what’s next?
Tomorrow is a day to watch but we may be capped out again with warm air aloft pushing in during the day.

July 2 Carvel RADAR loop
July 4 Strathmore RADAR loop
July 5 Strathmore RADAR loop
July 6 Strathmore RADAR loop
July 8 Strathmore RADAR loop

Darkling shadows northwest of Bentley, AB July 4, 2013
Hail stripe across Irricana visible from space July 6, 2013 Hail track over Irricana taken by Cpt. Daryl Frank from Jazz Airline approaching YYC July 6, 2013
Hail damage tour around Irricana, AB July 7, 2013

Canada Day Long Weekend

A pretty nice weekend it was too.
Lots of warm and sun, things to see every day, the only downside has been the microvampires.

Saturday carried the threat of some nice storms rolling out of the hills, but warm air aloft building in from the south held things back a bit, squashing everything south of Caroline for the afternoon. Then about 5pm a good one looked ready to pop out so we went for a look. A bit of futzing around before departure cost us a nice view of a supercell spinning up just west of caroline, we watched it dragging along some scuddles under it’s base, then start to develop a wall before we got to a good viewpoint and set up the tripods. Soon after we got there it spun out and cast off a gust front to the south, wrapping itself up in a pile of rain. We waited to see if it would recycle but the energy seemed to move back out into the hills with the gust. The nice warm southeast wind we had been in all day turned to a cool northwest breeze so we went home. A few more nice lookers on RADAR flared up south of Caroline before an ugly squall formed from Sundre to Cremona and came barreling out to the east. It stretched out to the north as it rolled along so we wandered south a few miles to watch an hour of non-stop lightning.
A good start to the weekend.
Sunday was a bit lazy but we did get a chance to go for a nice bike on the trails of Red Deer, down along the river to see what the floodwaters had done last week, it didn’t do much. A bit of mud and a few trees here and there. A fun bit of Red Deer Centennial stuff was taking place after dark within walking distance, the Horton Spheroid, or the Green Onion as it’s known in town, was all lit up with projections of a watery type scene so we had to go see that a few times.

Canada Day was a warm one, 28C and a 19C dewpoint, so we went for a spin with the windows down out to Garrington Bridge to see just what had happened out there. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using that bridge this season to access the hills in the James River area. The damage is impressive. The relentless scouring action of the Red Deer river full of trees, sand, and rocks completely removed a ~115m(375ft) armored bridge protection dyke, then chewed out the armored bridge abutment on the east side. Now the main flow of the river has moved to to west side and is trying to get to that abutment as well. Will be interesting to see how they go about rebuilding that and protecting it from next spring’s offerings.
The day and weekend closed out with a fireworks show at the Westerner grounds in Red Deer, attended by billions, 99.9995% of those being mosquitoes. They are incredibly thick and hungry this year, pretty much ignoring the liberal slatherings of deet and going right up your nose, in your ears. AAAgh. So much water laying around in big puddles, all they needed was a little bit of heat to erupt, tomorrow there will be thousands of tons more as we are heading for a rare day in Alberta.

Humidex warnings are not a common thing here at all, but all the juice evaporating away just as the crops are really starting to transpire, and a forecast high of 32C is threatening to crank the humidex to 40. Wilty.
Very warm air aloft kept a tight lid on things today, somebody is getting it tomorrow as upper level cooling pushes in from the northwest. Whether the cap will let anything go this far south is a crapshoot, but Edmonton is looking a bit scary around the supper hour. I’ll be watching the RADAR for an excuse to move, not a day to be lounging in a lawnchair on the side of #22 waiting for something to arrive. Melting.

June 29 Strathmore RADAR loop

Supercell thunderstorm near Caroline,AB June 29, 2013
Garrington Bridge damage July 1, 2013Garrington Bridge during 2005 flood
Horton Spheroid lit up for the Red Deer 2013 CentennialCandada Day fireworks in Red Deer,AB July 1, 2013

June 20-22, 2013 – Red Deer River Flood repeat


Beautiful and cool, toasty hot. Refreshing. Life sustaining. Frightening.
Only one of those descriptions have I heard in the past five days.
Every adjective in the thesaurus has been used to describe what has happened to southern Alberta since Thursday.
I read of the unthinkable, the unimaginable. The words I was thinking were unavoidable and inevitable.
Images and videos from the floodplains of the entire town of High River under water and of houses floating down rivers crashing into bridges as people watch and the kiddies cheer.
Media pumping hard, trying to build an equal to I don’t know what.
The worst catastrophe in the history of Alberta??
It’s been a bit overwhelming.
Three days after the water began to rise and before the power is even back on, the bankers have a number for us on economic losses we can expect due to the flooding that is still filling basements and covering large swathes of land. Media food. Ack.

A lot of rain in a short amount of time falling on the still melting snows of the Rockies does some crazy stuff. Why do people forget this? ~130mm of rain over 36 hours got the mountain streams roaring on the first day of summer.
The similarity to the flood of 2005 was amazing on the Red Deer river, not so much to the south.

Canmore got attention first as Cougar Creek flared up and ate a big chunk of the Trans Canada highway, threatening to eat a bunch of new houses parked right on the edge of a major mountain outflow. No big surprise there really.
Then Bragg Creek. Videos of people standing on the bridge over raging waters and others trundling around in their vehicles up to the doors in water having a look around. Bragg Creek people push their luck way too far.
Then Turner Valley started tweeting photos of flooded streets and suddenly High River was underwater.

Rainfall warnings were out well in advance and river forecasters made it clear there would be flooding but what actually came down the valleys was not what most were expecting. It had been since the early 1930’s that anyone had seen this much.
There were a lot fewer people and buildings to get wet in the 30’s.

If the flood of 2005 had not happened, this would have been a very big event on the Red Deer river, but lessons learned and precautions taken made this almost a non-event even though it was almost identical.
The Town of Sundre got all over it in a hurry, evacuating low lying areas that got it good last time, sandbagging vulnerable spots. Too bad about the golf course/airport area, but again the words unavoidable and inevitable come to mind.
Pretty crazy spot for a town anyway but at least you can get up a hill quick if need be.

It sounds like the Coal Camp road southwest of Sundre and a lot of the forestry trunk road from Nordegg south is chewed up pretty bad, havent heard it’s as bad as 2005 when nearly every bridge out there was washed away.
The worst damage I know of downstream of Sundre is the Garrington Bridge west of Bowden on hwy#587. Here the swollen Red Deer river ate a large armored protection dyke on the southeast side and then ate the bridge abutment, perhaps on the west side too. That doesn’t look like a quick fix and is definitely going to alter some storm watching journeys. A very handy route I use often in July to get to the hills.
Downstream of that, only a few properties got wet, the same ones that got wet in 2005. The City of Red Deer declared a state of local emergency but nothing happened other than some bike paths getting mudded.

Fingers crossed we are done with the monsoon and some heat will settle in. Duck ponds abound in the fields, crops are yellowing, even the leaves are yellowing it is so soggy. All that juice laying around as July arrives is a recipe for a lot of action, but at this point I wouldn’t mind a thick ridge for a week of blue skies.
Saturday looks interesting so far….

2005 flood map and photos
2013 Southern Alberta flood photosMore
2013 flood timeline
Red Deer Advocate story on Garrington bridge

Below are comparison shots of the 2005 and 2013 flood, perhaps a foot higher in ’05? We have dozens of shots from the same places that flooded in 2005, which may be added to the 2005 flood map at some point.

Dickson Dam flood June 19, 2005 vs June 21, 2013Dickson dam floodgates June 19, 2005 vs June 21, 2013Garrington bridge flood June 18, 2005 vs June 21, 2013
Asoowahum campground flooding June 19, 2005 vs June 22, 2013Range road 20 south of hwy#54 flooding June 19, 2005 vs June 22, 2013Range road 22 south of hwy#54 flooding June 19, 2005 vs June 21, 2013

June 12 – The beast is yet to come

Thunderstorm southeast of Red Deer, AB - June 12, 2013

June 2013 is going to be one to remember for cloud watchers if the forecast holds up.
The first two weeks have mostly accounted for what we normally get for the whole month, and there is a lot more to come.
More thundery days than not, lots of rain and even a tornado on the 12th on Pigeon Lake, right where the morning models thought there might be one. I did not trust them and trolled some dehydrated foothills weaklings instead of going north.
After chasing storms away for a few hours, all it took was parking the car in the garage to flare up a nice little cell just south of town. We hopped back in and went for a look at what turned out to be quite a pretty little thing rolling over the radar hills southeast of Red Deer. It was just bubbling away on an outflow boundary getting pushed along by a healthy jet stream above, not doing much more than air conditioning so we took it’s picture and let it go.

June 12 Carvel RADAR loop
June 12 Visible Sat loop

The GFS long range model has been painting a nasty picture for southern Alberta next week. Tonight’s run is going to have tornado alley chasers looking this way. All the ingredients are coming together for dangerous storms every day next week.

GFS Forecast for Monday June 17, 2013
GFS Forecast for Tuesday June 18, 2013
GFS Forecast for Wednesday June 19, 2013

June 5-7, 2013 – Eyes to the sky

The time has come again to watch the hills for darkling shadows.
Wet weather has been here and the land is covered in puddles.
More fuel for the fire.

The first few trips out to storm wash the car this year were no more to talk about than an actual car wash. A few miles already this season just looking for something that wants it’s picture taken, but no luck until June 5.
A cold front with a push from a collapsing storm west of Drayton Valley was rolling towards Red Deer, didn’t look like a lot on radar but did have a bit of a bow to it, so we went for a spin. Up to a high spot northeast of the city, as soon as we got to our spot a small gust line could be seen kicking up dust northwest of the city. Within a few minutes the line had stretched out almost as wide as the city and was moving in fast. One spot due north of the city, close to the QE2 seemed to be a focal point, almost like a little gustnado that was flinging a plume of dust into the squall, I assume this was close to the area that had the downed power lines(Advocate story). The airport recorded ~74kmh peak gust a few miles south of the city. We stood and gawked and pointed while the vidcam sat in the bag. Brilliant.

June 7 is pretty early to be getting a significant storm around here, but a mega-jet flying in across southern BC gave enough of a jolt to help light things up a bit. Had to go have a look. I made it as far south as Bergen road, watching cells fighting amongst each other for room. Lots of lightning, lots of rain, a few neat looking bits here and there but pretty much just a car wash again. A few more degrees C and we would have had some nasties. Good to hear the hail planes buzzing around overhead again, it’s open season on thunderheads.

June 5 Strathmore RADAR loop
June 7 Strathmore RADAR loop
June 7 Visible Sat loop

Wind storm blows through Red Deer, AB June 5, 2013Lightning strike west of Didsbury, AB June 7, 2013
Thunderstorm near Sundre, AB June 7, 2013Skinny funnel cloud west of Olds, AB June 7, 2013

A great deal of change has taken place since the last post, the biggest one being our move from a mountain view southwest of Red Deer, to Mountview, in Red Deer. Time has been flying past.

No longer can I see the foothills from Cochrane to Nordegg just by looking out between the trees, now it is like standing in a forest.
The weather station is partially up but I think I must have whacked the anemometer when taking it down, only temp and humidity for now. Not that there is measurable wind in this yard anyway.

Still, the good outweighs the bad by a lot, and we have been out to places east we haven’t been in ages.
As far as storm watching goes, I think it’s a good thing. Might even try to find a navigator or two this year.
I was always extra mindful of the yard after the 2006 hailstorm that tore the arse out of the yard with the dogs stuck shelterless and downed trees blocking the road. We were so isolated that I think the place could have burnt to the ground and nobody would have even noticed till the next day. No worries about that stuff now so I plan to wander a bit more this year. Rarely did I go east of the QE2 chasing the prairie beasties for fear something wicked would roll out of the hills and over the yard.
For years I watched those monsters from 100 miles away, going to go after a few this year but the foothills will always be my favorite hunting grounds and they are only a few more minutes away.

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