Massive hailstone found near Markerville, Alta., breaks Canadian record, research group says

Grapefruit to softball-sized hail came down near Innisfail, Alta., on Monday, and one of the hailstones has broken a Canadian record, according to the Northern Hail Project.

It weighs 292.71 grams, eclipsing the previous record of 290 grams

This record-breaking hailstone was recovered northwest of Markerville, Alta., on Monday. Its weight was recorded as 292.71 grams and its diameter as 123 millimetres. (Francis Lavigne-Theriault/Northern Hail Project)

A massive hailstone recovered from Monday's storm near Innisfail, Alta., has eclipsed a Canadian record, weighing in at a whopping 292.71 grams and measuring 123 millimetres in diameter, according to Western University's Northern Hail Project.

The record breaker was found under a tree canopy near Markerville, about 110 kilometres north of Calgary, shortly after the storm had passed, with several other grapefruit- to softball-sized hailstones.

The previous Canadian record holder, collected on July 31, 1973, in Cedoux, Sask., weighed 290 grams and was 114 millimetres in diameter, said the research group based in Alberta.

"It wasn't until I returned and started sifting through the bags that I found the record-breaking stone," said Francis Lavigne-Theriault, part of the group's field team, in a news release.

"It was bagged with other stones without realizing what we had in our possession."

Julian Brimelow, executive director of the Northern Hail Project, said his severe weather colleagues from around the world maintain a database of record hailstones. Only 22 hailstones, including this one, have weighed more than 290 grams.

"Finding large hailstones like this is like hitting the jackpot. So this Markerville sample joins an elite club of giant hailstones," said Brimelow.

"This stone will also help us refine our estimate of just how large it is possible for hail to grow."

The current record holder for the largest hailstone in North America fell near Vivian, South Dakota, on July 23, 2010. It weighed 879 grams and had a maximum diameter of 203 millimetres.

'It was extremely intense'

Although the discovery is exciting, Monday's storm was quite terrifying for drivers along the Queen Elizabeth II Highway between Innisfail and Red Deer.

Matt Berry got on the road at about 6 p.m. that day, and said it was "perfect" weather.

But about 10 minutes later, the storm rolled through the area, hurling massive chunks of hail down on dozens of cars on Antler Hill.

Large hailstones fell near Innisfail, Alta., and damaged dozens of vehicles shortly after 6 p.m. Monday. (Matt Berry)

"The next thing I know, my windshield was caving in on me and cracking and breaking," he said in an interview with the Calgary Eyeopener.

"My windshield is absolutely destroyed.… I was just scared of this thing coming in on top of me."

He managed to pull off to the side of the road and waited for the storm to pass. In all, it lasted for 10 to 15 minutes, he said.

According to RCMP, 34 vehicles were damaged Monday — down from an earlier estimate of 70 — while numerous people suffered minor injuries. Three collisions were caused by the storm, police said.

Stuart Brideaux, public education officer with Alberta Health Services, said local fire and EMS also attended the scene, arriving at about 6:30 p.m.

Although some people were hit indirectly by hail coming through windows and broken glass, he said no one required transportation to the hospital.

Jacques Lambert lives on an Innisfail farm. Their roof, west side siding, windows and vehicles were all damaged. (Jacques Lambert/Facebook)

It's good news, considering the size of the hailstones coming down. Brimelaw said the intensity of the storm was a surprise even to his team.

"We were getting reports of grapefruit-sized hail, softball-sized hail.… Usually in an exceptional day, we maybe have tennis ball-sized hail, so six to seven centimetres. But [Monday], we had a lot of stones that were over 10 centimetres across," he said.

The Northern Hail Project team said it worked independently to confirm the record.

On Wednesday, Environment Canada said that softball-sized (10.6 cm) hail was recorded in Markerville, baseball-sized (7.5 cm) hail fell in Innisfail and Milnerton, and tennis-ball sized (6.4 cm) hail hit Sylvan Lake, Penhold and Wimborne, Alta.

Brimelow said he's not sure why the hail in this storm was so much bigger than usual, but he expects it may have something to do with an abundant amount of moisture near the ground Monday, which isn't typical in Alberta.

That element, along with the usual storm ingredients, may have come together to give more fuel to the creation of the hailstones.

"Every new data point helps inform us on what conditions are required," said Brimelow.

"Once we have measured and 3D scanned the Markerville hailstone, we can then make thin sections. The growth layers evident in those will reveal information on the hailstone's growth history in the storm."

The team may also use 3D scans to study fall behaviour and the aerodynamics of large hailstones.

Storm chaser Matt Melnyk says he loves to take photographs of major storms and compare them with others. "You never see the same storm twice," he says. (Matt Melnyk)

Matt Melnyk, a storm chaser in Alberta, also wonders what led to the hailstones' size. He went to Innisfail Monday to assess and take photos of the storm.

"This particular storm had a very, very large rotating updraft, which kept the hail inside the storm for a long period of time," he said in an interview with CBC Calgary News at 6.

"It was extremely intense."

WATCH | Storm chaser Matt Melnyk describes what it was like to follow Monday's hailstorm near Innisfail:

What Monday's hailstorm near Innisfail looked like from the perspective of a storm chaser

8 months ago
Duration 4:04
Storm chaser Matt Melnyk speaks with CBC Calgary News at 6 host Andrew Brown about Monday's hailstorm near Innisfail, Alta., and about why he loves to chase powerful storms.

Brimelow said one of the reasons why his team is so motivated to better understand these storms is because they know how they can impact people's lives.

"Our hearts really go out to those folks because we understand how devastating it can be."

Cleanup continued Tuesday

Geoff Tagg saw that devastation with his own eyes.

He's the owner of Tagg's Extreme Towing Ltd. in Red Deer. His team was called to help out just north of Innisfail on Monday evening, and he thinks dozens more cars were mangled by the storm.

"All hell was breaking loose.… There were approximately 100, maybe a few more than that, up there with all kinds of damage," he said. 

"The windshields were just busted. A couple of them looked like somebody had body slammed the front."

A number of towing companies showed up to help move cars off the road, Tagg said. They were on scene until about 3 a.m., and at least one company continued working through Tuesday to get cars out of the area.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada said it may not have estimates around insured losses for several weeks.

Melnyk says Alberta's worst storms typically happen during the last two weeks of July and the first week of August. (Matt Melnyk)

But, if your vehicle is struck by hail, there are a number of steps you should take. 

First, take pictures of the damage from all angles, according to Rob de Pruis, national director of consumer and industry relations with the bureau.

Next, reach out to your insurance representative and provide as much detail as possible.

"The sooner you can get the claim in, the better, but you do have a period of two years to get everything related to your claim finalized," he said in an interview with CBC Edmonton News at 6.

You may want to purchase optional comprehensive coverage, de Pruis said. It covers hail, wind and water damage to your vehicle. 

Monday's hailstorm left a lot of cars damaged, but no one from the scene had any major injuries, officials say. (Matt Berry)

If you pay any extra expenses, make sure to keep those receipts. 

"If you can't drive your vehicle, if you get your vehicle towed to the nearest repair facility, keep the receipt for that tow because that can be covered under your insurance policy as well."

Berry is one of several drivers who had his vehicle towed to a nearby lot. He got a ride home from his mom, who lives nearby.

After the whole ordeal, he said he'd advise anyone heading out on the road to take weather warnings seriously and stay home if possible.

"I would have never guessed that that could have happened that quickly," he said.

"It was insane." 

With files from Ariel Fournier


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