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‘Grapefruit-sized hail’ fell in Alberta Monday, and it may break a record

When Matt Berry left Innisfail, Alta., Monday evening to drive north to Red Deer, it was “perfect” weather, he recalls.

But about 10 minutes later, just after 6 p.m., it was an entirely different story. A storm rolled through the area, smashing massive chunks of hail onto dozens of cars stopped along Queen Elizabeth II Highway.

Berry was just north of Innisfail, near Antler Hill, when it struck.

“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 about 10 to 15 minutes, he said, but it left its mark.

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

grapefruit sized hail fell in alberta monday and it may break a record
Matt Berry, one of several people who got caught in a Monday’s hailstorm, says many good samaritans stopped by damaged cars to see if anyone needed a ride. (Matt Berry)

Stuart Brideaux, public education officer with Alberta Health Services, says local fire and EMS also attended the scene 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.

It’s good news, considering the size of the hailstones coming down.

“We were all a bit shocked to be honest…. I’m pretty sure we’re probably going to set a new record in terms of mass,” said Julian Brimelow, executive director of Western University’s Northern Hail Project — a five-year study based in Alberta.

“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.”

The team has taken its samples to a lab in Red Deer to confirm whether the hailstones set a provincial record, or even a national one.

“From what we can tell, the stones had been on the ground about 20 minutes before our team could get there. So there had been some melting,” he said. “It’s going to be close, I think.”

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.

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

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

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:

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

14 hours 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 says 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.”

Clean up 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 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 says it may not have estimates around insured losses for several weeks.

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Melnyk says Alberta’s worst storms typically happen 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 Insurance Bureau of Canada.

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, which covers hail, wind and water damage to your vehicle. 

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Monday’s hailstorm left a lot of cars damaged, but no one from the scene had any major injuries, says AHS. (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 says 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.” 

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