Winds, hail devastate southern Saskatchewan

REGINA – The savage storm that tore a strip across hundreds of kilometres of prime Saskatchewan farmland Saturday literally beat James Betteridge to his knees.

The Pilot Butte producer ended up in hospital with a bludgeoned body, a cut face and a bruised eye after the storm defeated his attempts to find refuge.

“He was in the shop (when the hailstorm struck) and when it started to move he thought he’d better get out and hang onto the power pole. He couldn’t find it. It was gone,” said Ross Taylor, Betteridge’s brother-in-law.

Jagged ice slashed into Betteridge and destroyed most of the farm. The shop was demolished, the barn pulverized, the crops smashed and equipment ruined. A combine was pushed more than 100 metres by the 100-kilometre-an-hour winds, ending up in the ditch beside a highway.

The storm’s devastation was most severe around Pilot Butte, which lies just outside Regina. But many Saskatchewan communities were lashed by the string of storms that began just east of the Alberta border and were felt as far east as Brandon, Man. The main storm dove down west of Gull Lake just after 10 a.m. Saturday and roared along the Trans-Canada Highway, cutting a 50-km-wide swath. Some areas, such as Gull Lake, saw crops suffer 100 percent damage from hail, while other areas were less severely affected by rain.

The hail that was kernel-sized in Regina became golf-ball sized when the storm reached Pilot Butte.

Second storm hit

Serious weather aftershocks followed the storm. The original storm damaged local crops near Gull Lake, but at about 5 p.m. a second storm with hail struck the same area.

While citizens and volunteers across southern Saskatchewan spread out to clean up and repair the damage, others were tallying up the cost in dollars.

More than 3,000 insurance claims will likely be made for hail damage, said Collin Liebrecht, of Saskatchewan Crop Insurance.

While the amount of damage is variable, very few in the storm belt will enjoy an untouched crop, Liebrecht said.

“It didn’t leave too many people out,” he said.

A late-season hail storm such as this is especially costly because many crops have ripened and dried and can’t recover, said Indian Head agrologist Ed Tanner. “This is it. They’re dust now.”

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