Alberta's 'monster' hailstorm demolished every crop in its path, farmer says

Matt Sawyer crouches, his dog by his side, as he inspects young wheat, canola and barley crops pulverized by last weekend's hailstorm on his 1,660-hectare farm west of Acme in southern Alberta.

Hailstones as large as 10 centimetres wide reported in some areas of southern Alberta

Matt Sawyer surveys the damage to his young wheat, canola and barley crops from last weekend's hailstorm on his 1,660-hectare farm west of Acme in southern Alberta. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Matt Sawyer crouches, his dog by his side, as he inspects young wheat, canola and barley crops pulverized by last weekend's hailstorm on his 1,660-hectare farm west of Acme in southern Alberta.

The shredded stems of canola plants jut out from pools of rainwater as far as the eye can see. 

"It was a monster. It demolished everything in its path," he said from his farm about 90 kilometres northeast of Calgary.

"All of the crops are damaged and every single acre we farm was absolutely destroyed."

He's just one of many farmers and property owners in southern Alberta that face similar devastation after rain and hail pummelled the area on Saturday night, as two storm systems tracked across the Calgary area and a large swath of southern Alberta. 

Environment and Climate Change Canada said they had reports of hailstones as large as grapefruits southeast of Calgary in Duchess, bigger than hen eggs in northeast Calgary and the size of golf balls and walnuts in many other places in southern Alberta.

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Terri Lang, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said the hailstones likely fell at a speed of 80 to 100 km/h.

Environment Canada also received several reports of tornadoes in southern Alberta.

Won't know full extent of damage for days yet

Provincial agriculture officials don't expect to know the full impact of the hailstorm for at least five days, according to the Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC), the agency that provides crop insurance and farm income disaster assistance in Alberta.

The hail that pounded southern Alberta farms was reportedly as big as 10 centimetres across in some areas. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

"We recognize that many clients have been impacted by the recent storm activities, with consecutive nights of hail in many parts of the province," said Tracy Jouan, a vice president with the agency, in an emailed statement.

"At this time, the extent of the damage will vary based on the stage of the crop at the time of the storm and from experience, most crops will recover and still produce a harvestable yield from damage at this time of year, though the yield may not be what originally would have been."

Farmers should check their fields and report any damage to AFSC within 14 days of the storm.

Rick Omelchenko with the Canadian Crop Hail Association also said it's too early to clearly assess the scale of the damage.

"Right now, a lot of phone calls coming in," he said. "Farmers know they have some damage but they can't get to all the fields because it's too wet."

Worst storm in decades, farmer says

Meanwhile, Sawyer said he hasn't seen a storm this bad hit his farm since 2000.

"This year was looking like a great year and to all of a sudden have out of the blue a storm to take this out is really unfortunate," he said.

Sawyer says he hasn't seen a hailstorm as severe in 20 years. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Although he has crop insurance, he's trying to determine just how much he's personally lost — but says it shouldn't be too hard to figure out as there's nothing left to assess.

Sawyer said Alberta's growing season is so short that a setback this early in the season is devastating.

And, he said, it comes after other recent hardships: droughts, railway blockades and China's rejection of grain imports.

"It's been a tough go. It was looking like this year was shaping up to be a good one for us and then it was a boot in the teeth for sure."

Calgary may have suffered $1B in damages

The storm also caused huge damage In Calgary, with northeast districts bearing the brunt of the damage.

On Monday, Mayor Naheed Nenshi estimated the storms caused $1 billion or more in damage and damaged tens of thousands of homes, including his own.

The hail smashed through vehicle windshields and shredded the siding off of houses, while the downpour caused streets and buildings to flood.

The Calgary Fire Department responded to as many calls in a six-hour span as it would in an entire day as streets were deluged. It carried out 23 water rescues, mostly of people trapped in their vehicles.

Premier Jason Kenney says the Alberta Emergency Management Agency is conducting hydrological tests to determine whether the storm could be considered extraordinary.

That, together with a request from the city, could lead to a disaster declaration.

With files from Dave Gilson, Sarah Rieger, The Canadian Press