08/22/2014 11:44 EDT | Updated 10/22/2014 05:59 EDT

Alberta's cloud-seeding pilots see 2nd busiest year in 20 years

Fighting hailstorms in Alberta is getting a whole lot busier, according to the people behind the Alberta Hail Suppression Project, which uses planes to fly into storms and seed clouds in order to lessen the damage caused by hail. 

The insurance industry pays $3 million a year to lessen the impact of hailstorms by seeding clouds where storms are brewing, with the hope that it will result in fewer and less expensive insurance claims for hail-related damage.

The pilots who fly the cloud-seeding planes say this has been their second busiest season in nearly two decades.    

The project is run out of the Didsbury airport in central Alberta and employs pilots like Jody Fischer. His job is to fly straight into storm cells and shoot flares containing silver iodide, which shrinks the ice stones, making them more likely to melt before they hit the ground.

"It's kind of like being in a dogfight," said Fisher.

Experts say hailstorms in southern Alberta are happening more often and are getting more intense. 

"We know we can't eliminate the hail," said project director Terry Krauss. "What we are actually trying to do is make more ice crystals, or snowflakes or small hail, and most of that melts on the way to the ground."

Krauss says the program is working despite storms like the one that hit Airdrie just a few weeks ago.

"Our radar data shows a definite decrease in the intensity after we seeded," he said.

Insurance claims are piling up in the wake of this month's severe weather, but Krauss says without the cloud seeding, Albertans would see up to 40 per cent more damage from summer hailstorms.

Krauss says often all their planes are out in the skies seeding, and so far this year, they have fought 92 hailstorms.