Yesterday some of the staff at Young & Haggis were given the opportunity to visit with the men & women who work for the Alberta Severe Weather Management Society (ASWMS). These are the individuals responsible for modifying the weather in Alberta in an effort to reduce the size and severity of hail stones.
The program runs from June 1 to September 15 each year and is paid for entirely by insurance companies who operate in Alberta. In fact, its the largest privately funded cloud seeding program in the world.
The program costs about $3 million to run each summer. Sounds like a lot of money right? Well compared to how much insurers would be paying out on hail claims if this program didn’t exist, it’s a small price to pay. The program benefits the consumers too, less hail = less insurance claims = less premiums.
You’re probably thinking…” what a waste of money, look at all the hail we’ve had the past 3 years” You’re right… sort of. Yes, we have had a lot of hail, but the purpose of the cloud seeding isn’t to stop hail, that’s impossible. The purpose is to reduce the size and severity of the hail. One thousand little hail stones is better than one hundred tennis ball sized hail stones.
Hail suppression works by seeding thunderstorms with billions of silver iodide smoke particles. These particles act as artificial ice crystals to freeze up the supercooled water drops in the storms updraft. The billions of ice crystals, formed from seeding, freeze the supercooled water causing the storm to produce smaller hailstones.
Seeding does not present any environmental or health hazards. Silver iodide salt is a non toxic material. Silver occurs naturally in soils and many foods. It is also found in our water supplied in very low concentrations. The amount of silver iodide used when seeding clouds is very small relative to the large quantities of water in the storm. The aver seeding rates are about 10grams per minute. That’s equivalent to putting a spoonful of material over Niagara Falls per minute. In fact rain fall samples were found to contain lower levels of silver than a cup of water stirred with a silver spoon!
ASWMS has been responsible for seeding clouds since 1996. They use a fleet of 5 aircraft and operate in central & southern Alberta from Rocky Mountain House south to High River. ASWMS also has a perfect safety record having never had an accident. This is pretty incredible considering these are small aircraft battling massive storm cells!