Alberta's 'hailstorm alley' keeps businesses, and insurers, on their toes
More extreme weather is anticipated from the effects of climate change
"Hailstorm Alley" can be a very unforgiving place.
The area — which runs from High River, just south of Calgary and north to central Alberta — hosts more than 40 hail storms every summer causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.
The last major storm in Airdrie in 2014 resulted in $568 million in hail damage, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
With extreme weather becoming more common, businesses are looking for solutions to reduce their exposure and protect their bottom line.
"We've been hit twice with hail in the last five years and, when I say hit twice, I mean we had to make an actual claim," said Bobby Tulio, the general sales manager of Stoney Trail Mazda in Calgary.
"Suddenly you're out — let's say — $20,000 in premiums and now you have another $200,000 in damages that you cannot claim because you're forced to make a decision. If I make a claim, after my deductible, there may not be anything left and my insurance goes up.
"You're always under constant threat. Hail will come down ... it doesn't always create any damage but you don't really know that until you wipe the vehicles down."
As a result, the dealership began to search for ways to protect the inventory. It spent $500,000 for three tents, completed this year, to act as protective shields for the dealership vehicles from the damaging frozen pellets.
The tents can protect 170 vehicles and it has attracted a steady stream of other dealerships and businesses to check them out.
The insurance industry has been looking at ways to reduce the payouts for years, including cloud seeding as a way of hail suppression. Seeding thunderstorms with silver iodide particles results in the formation of billions of additional ice crystals, which can produce smaller ice particles.
"It's really tough to say if you're being successful at avoiding something. The cloud seeding that's paid for by the private insurers ... we believe it's working," said Heather Mack, from the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
Mack says building tents to protect vehicles is a smart move.
'Number 1 in natural disasters'
"It's a great idea because hail is just one of those weather events that it's so hard to protect yourself against," she said. "Anything people can come up with, such as tents and things, that can help mitigate that loss, can also help."
Mack said Alberta has a lot of extreme weather.
"We're number 1 in natural disasters for the insurance side," she said.
"If you look back the last 20 or 30 years, the top 10 most expensive disasters in Canadian history — Alberta has had seven of those 10."
Mack said the insurance industry isn't expecting conditions to improve and that outlook is how insurers determine their premiums. With the growing effects of climate change, she said costs will likely go up for consumers.
"As the claims go up, the premiums have to go up as well. Historically, that's what happened or you can look at restricting coverage. Every company is going to have to make their own decision."