Tornado researchers expand scope to study hail

The Northern Tornadoes Project (NTP) is changing the way researchers investigate and predict tornadoes and mitigate their damage in Canada. As its impact continues to grow, why stop with tornadoes?

The research team behind NTP (founded in 2017 as a partnership between Western University and ImpactWX) has now launched the Northern Hail Project (NHP) and they expect to be documenting the frozen phenomenon starting this summer.

Gregory Kopp

Gregory Kopp

“With NTP, we’ve really set the standard for this kind of research. The knowledge and expertise that we’ve gained over the past few years sets us up perfectly to succeed in this new endeavour: investigating hail,” said Gregory Kopp, ImpactWX chair in severe storms engineering and NTP/NHP research lead.

Tornadoes form in the updraft of a thunderstorm and can result in devastating damage. Similarly, hail is created when raindrops get caught in a strong updraft. The drops are lifted higher and higher into the storm cloud until they freeze and then begin to grow. Eventually, they become too heavy and crash back to Earth, ultimately causing varying degrees of damage.

According to NTP partner CatIQ, Canada has experienced more than $2 billion in insured losses due to hail-laden thunderstorms since 2020, mostly in Alberta.

And that’s where NHP is heading first. In collaboration with the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR), NHP researchers will primarily target Alberta for its research over a five-year period (2022-26). ICLR, a Western-affiliated centre and Canada’s leading disaster research institute, has already started important work to capture and collect data during the province’s damaging hail events. ICLR is also helping to support NHP financially.

Over the next several months, Western Engineering will assemble a field research team to assess and document damage from hailstorms, building on its experience assessing tornado damage. This field research team will include researchers and student interns.

David Sills

David Sills

“We’re taking advantage of a unique opportunity for new hail research in Alberta, and like NTP, the detection and documentation of hail events will be expanded over time to be national in scope,” said David Sills, NTP executive director.

Beyond teaming with ICLR, Western will also collaborate with Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). The resulting data will be shared with ICLR, ECCC and the public, and will be archived and used to assess the meteorological conditions associated with the hail-producing storms.

“The Northern Hail Project will further demonstrate Western Engineering’s leadership in understanding the risk of damage from climate extremes and their commitment to the development of damage reduction solutions based on science,” said Paul Kovacs, ICLR executive director.

A hailstone collected in Calgary, Alta. on Saturday, June 13, 2020. The 2020 Calgary hailstorm caused $1.2 billion in insured damage. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, this is the fourth costliest natural disaster in the country’s history. (Photo by Mark Agius)

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