First severe storm of the season brings hail, lightning to central Alberta

Perhaps May showers will bring June flowers?

Gardeners can only hope as central Alberta and the Edmonton region saw heavy rain, hail and plenty of lightning on Tuesday.

“This is the start of the severe storm season,” said Global Edmonton meteorologist Jesse Beyer, explaining there are contrasting air masses at this time of year which can lead to instability.

“We’re having a wild ride, weather-wise. We were at 24 C on Sunday — the warmest day so far in 2021.”

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Tuesday brought a drop in temperature as a large area of rain and thunderstorms developed in a band moving west-to-east across central Alberta, including the Edmonton region.

“We’ve seen nearly 50 mm of rain, hail and lightning out of severe thunderstorms and are looking at snowfall tonight… and it’s only Tuesday!” Beyer said.

Rainfall totals varied greatly across the city of Edmonton Tuesday: the north side saw just over 10 mm of rain, while parts of the south and southeast picked up nearly 50 mm.

The central Alberta community of Ponoka received a large dump of hail over the noon hour, leaving streets and lawns covered with the pellets of frozen rain.

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Hail in Ponoka, Alta. on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Courtesy: Ponoka Golf Club

“It’s not uncommon to see these types of storms in May, considering tornado season starts this month,” Global Edmonton weather specialist Phil Darlington said.

“Those storms often yield hail, strong winds, lightning, and heavy rain too.”

Environment Canada has a special weather statement in effect, as the afternoon rain will become mixed with wet snow overnight, and will transition completely to snow by Wednesday morning.

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The weather agency said the snow will then move south and taper off through the day Wednesday.

Read more: Weather advisory issued for central, northern Alberta as rain, snow could affect travel Tuesday night

For those who couldn’t resist the warm weekend weather and began working on their garden, a warning: bring your plants indoors Tuesday night, or at the least, cover them up well.

“Many with a garden have commented on social media that they wait until after the May-long weekend to plant, as they know a risk of snow is a reality at this time of year,” Darlington said.

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Tina Burback, the manager of Greenland Garden Centre in Sherwood Park, echoed that advice.

“So if you haven’t planted your tender plants like annuals and vegetables already, I would hold off until after the long weekend because we’re experiencing some pretty cold overnight temperatures coming up,” she said.

“If you have planted already, then it’s a great idea to cover any of those new transplants. That includes annuals, vegetables, perennials, even shrubs with tender foliage.”

Environment Canada said in general, total snowfall amounts are expected to be less than two centimetres across central Alberta, however areas near the Saskatchewan border between Cold Lake and Fort McMurray are likely to see five centimetres overnight.

To the west, areas along the northern Rockies and foothills may see up to 10 centimetres of heavy, wet snow, the weather agency said. The heaviest snow is expected to fall in the Grande Cache and Kakwa Provincial Park areas.

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Beyer said the weather at this time of year is prime for really wet snowfalls.

“The heavy snow, with even minimal to moderate accumulations, can add a lot of weight to tree limbs, roofs and other personal property leading to damage,” he said.

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Plants inside the Greenland Garden Centre in Sherwood Park, Alta. on Tuesday. May 18, 2021.
Plants inside the Greenland Garden Centre in Sherwood Park, Alta. on Tuesday. May 18, 2021. Global News

After Wednesday, the temperatures are expected to creep back up heading into the long weekend. Burback said gardeners should wait a few days to let their yards dry before getting their green thumbs on.

“You’re actually going to want to hold off not just temperature-wise, but because of the moisture: we traditionally don’t want to be digging in really heavy, wet soil,” she explained, adding the soggy days are excellent for getting ready instead.

“Certainly go shopping and pick up the annuals, get everything that you want and get ready.

“Then once the temperatures warm over the weekend, we’ll see some drier spells and it’ll be great weather for planting.”

One of the best ways to track locally hazardous driving conditions is from local viewer reports. The #yegtraffic hashtag is often used by Twitter users reporting traffic issues within Edmonton.

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If safe to do so, share your weather photos with us via the Global Edmonton Facebook and Twitter accounts. You can also post updates from your community using the hashtags #yegwx and #abstorm.

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