August 4, 2016

‘What the Hail?’ Part 1: Evaluating Hail Season’s Damage

Large sized hailstone in hand

If you live in a colder climate, you probably have to scrape ice off your car windshield each winter. If you live in Colorado Springs, however, you may have spent the last week of July digging your car out of the ice, too.

Clearly, winter wasn’t to blame for the unusually frosty summer weather. But from afternoon to late at night on Thursday, July 29, a hailstorm rained down on the Colorado city and blanketed the area in ice.

Hail typically ranges from pea-sized to more than two inches in diameter, but sometimes even larger hailstones can form. One witness in Colorado Springs reported hail roughly the size of a tennis ball.

“It was loud crashing all around the house,” Krystal Taylor told CNN of the oversized hail. “Lightning, thunder and hail can be a scary mix.”

Area residents who parked their vehicles outside were likely to find them riddled with shattered windows hours later. The storm’s duration forced many to break out their snow shovels as well, and some had to clear away the lingering piles of ice well into Friday.


What is hail?

Hail is a type of solid precipitation that forms during thunderstorms. Raindrops that travel to parts of the atmosphere where the temperature is below freezing turn to ice, thus creating hailstones. Oddly enough, hail tends to occur during the warmest weather, which makes it especially unpredictable.

Although usually small in size, hail can sometimes be six inches or more in diameter. The largest hailstone recorded fell in Vivian, South Dakota, in July 2010; it had a diameter of 7.9 inches and a circumference of over 18 inches, and it weighed nearly two pounds.

Yet no matter how large or small hailstones get, they can add up fast. The hours-long hailstorm in Colorado Springs last week turned a typical summer day into what looked like a winter storm.

Why is hail so dangerous?

If the threat of a golf ball-sized hailstone hitting you in the head isn’t bad enough, hail can get severe enough to dent metal and damage property. For many property owners, even minor damage can mean a phone call to an insurance company to file a claim.

Insurance carriers typically offer hail protection for homes and commercial properties, as hailstorms can cause significant damage to roofs, windows, and other parts of these structures. Both personal and commercial vehicles can see damage if left outside; car dealerships are especially at risk during hailstorms, but so are fleets of public safety vehicles.

Homeowners are most likely to see the effects of hail on their roofs. They have to file a homeowners’ insurance claim first before they can call a roofing contractor or other service for repairs.

Some of the biggest losses brought on by hailstorms result from damage to crops. Hail can easily destroy crops, with wheat, corn, soybeans, and tobacco – all commonly grown in the United States – chief among them.

How much damage can hail cause?

Several sources have named the 2016 hail season thus far as one of the most severe on record. Insurance Journal reports that just four hail events in Texas from during March and April caused almost $690 million in damage.

Aaron Wilkerson, a spokesperson from the Texas Farm Bureau, told Texas Public Radio that urban areas saw the most impact from hail. “Some of the larger hail I understand has gone through people’s roofs and through the decking into their house.”

Wilkerson also explained that the most serious claims – holes in roofs and broken windshields, for instance – take priority. Property owners are advised to board up any holes in roofs and keep cars covered to prevent further damage before repairs can begin.

To evaluate claims, insurance companies need to see not only the new damage to the property but the home or business’s prior condition before the storm. Aerial imagery and roof measurement data help insurers see the original state of a roof, so they can pay out an adequate sum to help property owners fix the damage. Nearly 60% of severe weather insurance claims in 2015 resulted from hail damage, so clear images are vital additions to any insurance claims software.

It’s no surprise that Texas and Colorado have seen such extreme hail so far this year. Last year, Progressive Insurance reported that the two states placed first and second, respectively, for the most hail claims for 2015. Kansas, Minnesota, and Missouri – three other states in the so-called “Hail Belt” – rounded out the top five. Of all claims last year, more than one-third resulted from hailstones the size of golf balls.

In 2014, there were a grand total of 5,500 major hail storms; more than one-fifth (22%) occurred in May alone. Meanwhile, 39% of homeowner property damage claims are filed between March and May, which is also the height of hail season. As Colorado’s extreme July storm proves, though, it’s never too late to prepare for hail.

What do homeowners do once they’ve called the insurance company? Check out part two of our “What the Hail?” feature, where we talk about what the roofing industry does to repair the damage.

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