All About Hail and Everything You Need to Know About Hailstorm Damage in Colorado
The W’s of Hail (What, Where, When)
Hail in Colorado is a weather event you cannot miss, as local news frequently reports hailstorms. A severe hailstorm in Colorado will cause damage to roofs, vehicles, siding, windows, plants, and more.
Specific to hail damage on a roof, hailstones will make an indentation or bruise that allows water to penetrate inside your home or building. Contact a reputable roofing company for a professional roof inspection if you suspect hail damage. If your roof has hail damage, you can file an insurance claim to cover your roof replacement.
Table of Contents
What is Hail?
Hail is one of the most destructive types of severe weather, causing millions of dollars in damage each year. Hail is a type of precipitation or water droplets in the atmosphere. Hail forms when water droplets freeze together in the cold upper regions of severe thunderstorm clouds. This frozen water droplet begins to fall from a cloud during a severe weather storm but is lifted back into the cloud by a strong updraft of wind. When the hailstone lifts, it hits more liquid water droplets, which freeze to the hailstone, adding another layer. A hailstone eventually falls to the ground once it is too heavy to remain in the cloud or when the updraft stops or slows down.
Hailstones differ from frozen rain – frozen raindrops fall to the ground as water and freeze as they approach the earth. By contrast, hail falls to the ground, not as water but as a solid. Hail stones come in various sizes and shapes, whereas larger hailstones can cause extensive property damage to homes, buildings, vehicles, and crops.
Hail is found in many thunderstorms and often accompanies storms that produce strong winds and tornadoes. To no surprise, scientists have tried ways to prevent hail. In the 18th century, Europeans fired cannons into clouds. In the 20th century, scientists in the United States and Russia tried cloud seeding, the process of adding chemical particles into clouds from rockets or aircraft to control rain and hail. Sadly, there is no evidence that any technique has been effective.
Hail Definition and Meaning
Hail is a precipitation type where solid ice forms inside the updrafts within thunderstorms. When hailstones become too heavy to be lifted by the updraft, they fall to the ground. Hail can damage homes, cars, plants, crops, animals, and people.
The official hail meaning or definition, according to Miriam-Webster, is precipitation in the form of small balls or lumps, usually consisting of concentric layers of clear ice and compact snow.
Hailstones may not always fall to the ground. Small hailstones may melt on their way to the ground in the warmest portions of the atmosphere. Hail must grow large enough inside a thunderstorm before it can fall through the warm lower atmosphere to reach the ground.
How Does Hail Form?
Hailstones form when raindrops ascend by thunderstorm updrafts into extremely cold areas of the atmosphere and then freeze. Hailstones further grow by colliding with liquid water drops that freeze onto the hailstone’s surface. When water freezes quickly when colliding with the hailstone, cloudy ice forms as air bubbles become trapped in the newly formed ice. However, if water freezes slowly, air bubbles can escape, and new ice will be clear. Regardless of color, when a thunderstorm’s updraft can no longer support the weight of the hailstorm is what causes hail to fall towards the ground.
Inside a thunderstorm, the wind direction can change from vertical to horizontal. When the upper edge of a thunderstorm is at a high altitude, the air may be so cold that all liquid water will have frozen into ice. Liquid water is needed to explain how does hail form to an appreciable size that may cause damage.
What Does Hail Look Like and How Large Can Hail Get?
There is no such thing as a standard hail size. Every hailstorm will bring something different from pea-sized hail to large hail the size of a softball or grapefruit.
The hailstone size will depend on the strength of the storm’s updraft, where stronger updrafts can create larger hailstones. Thus, weather forecasters and news broadcasters pay careful attention to severe storms that can threaten public safety.
A ruler is the most popular method to measure hailstones’ size, focusing on the stone’s diameter. However, individuals frequently describe hail sizes based on coins, fruit, and sports balls to provide further context.
Most insurance companies consider hail severe when hailstones measure one inch in diameter or larger. For reference, a quarter is approximately one inch in diameter. Various services report hail reports like OneClick Code and StormerSite, which typically begin measuring hail at ¾” or larger. Anything smaller won’t be captured in reports.
In 2010, South Dakota recorded the largest hailstone in the United States, measuring 8 inches in diameter, roughly the size of a volleyball. The world record for hailstone by weight was recorded in Bangladesh, India, in 1986 with a 2.25-pound monster.
Some parts of the world are more susceptible to hailstorms than others, including India and China and parts of the midwestern United States. Recent weather patterns are changing, and US states like Louisiana are getting more frequent hailstorms. In the United States and Canada, meteorologists refer to the Great Plains region as “Hail Alley.” “Hail alley” is a region from southeast Wyoming, northeast Colorado, western Nebraska, and Kansas that produces not necessarily the largest hail but the most frequent hail in the United States. This region is uniquely susceptible to hail due to its location near the Rocky Mountains.
When hail moves slowly, hail accumulation resembles snow. So, while it may be the middle of summer in Denver, Colorado, there may be several inches of hail, so it seems like the middle of winter on the ground.
Estimating Hail Size
Weather meteorologists and news broadcasters will typically report on hail size in inches. When discussing the size of hail, many people relate the size of hail to everyday items like coins, sports balls, and fruit when explaining what does hail look like. In 2019 and 2021, for example, the hail forecasting service Stormersite reported numerous hailstorms in the Denver metro area, mostly between 1.0 and 1.5 inches, essentially quarter-sized to ping pong ball sizes hailstones.
Please see the below hail diameter chart, which provides context for hailstone diameter, comparing coins, sports balls, and fruit to inches.
- Pea: ¼ inches
- Penny: ¾ inches
- Quarter: 1 inch
- Ping Pong ball: 1 ½ inches
- Golf ball: 1 ¾ inches
- Lime: 2 inches
- Tennis ball: 2 ½ inches
- Baseball: 2 ¾ inches
- Apple: 3 inches
- Softball: 4 inches
- Grapefruit: 4 ½ inches
On the high end of the spectrum, on August 13, 2019, a hailstone fell in eastern Colorado on that set a state record. The hailstone was 4.83 inches in diameter, beating the previous record of 4.5 inches, roughly the size of a grapefruit.
How Long Does Hail Last?
Hailstorms are usually brief, lasting less than 15 minutes. Unfortunately, that is enough time to cause millions or even billions of dollars in property damage, mainly if the storm occurs in a populated area like the Denver metro area.
The typical time of day for most hailstorms is mid-to-late afternoon.
What is a Hailstorm and What Damage Can Hailstones Do?
A hailstorm is an unusual weather phenomenon in which ice balls, called hail, fall from the sky. The ice balls are nothing more than solid precipitation that will form under certain conditions.
Most hailstorms cause no damage because most hail is typically the size of a pea in diameter. With leaves and flowers in full bloom during the summer months, you may notice leaves and twigs on the ground. But hailstones 1-inch or larger can be quite destructive to cars and roofs. Larger hailstones can puncture holes in roofs, rupturing the mat below the asphalt granules or crack tile roofs.
US hailstorms cause more than $1 billion in property and crop damage each year, but a single hailstorm or substantial size can cause that much damage alone.
For example, on May 8, 2017, a severe hailstorm passed through the Denver metro area, causing $2.3 billion in damages.
What Size Hail Will Damage a Roof?
As professional roofing contractors in the Denver metro area, we are often asked, what does hail damage look like on a roof or what size hail will damage a roof?
These great questions deserve an explanation. Hail damage on a roof will show indentations on the asphalt shingles where granules are missing and small divots remain. Lifting an asphalt shingle may indicate that the mat is ruptured. If not fixed, this hole can invite water penetration inside the home. On a tile roof, large hail can crack individual tiles.
You may notice asphalt granules or small tile pieces on the ground near the home’s downspouts following an extreme storm. You may also need to look inside the gutters to check for larger pieces that became dislodged for tile roofs.
Beyond the roof itself, hail can damage various flashings on the roof. Beyond causing a dent in an exhaust vent, hailstones can puncture the rubber gaskets around pipe vents, creating a hole that allows water inside your home’s attic with every rainstorm.
It’s important to remember that a hailstorm often has accompanying strong winds that can lift flashings or shingles. Lifted flashings and shingles can invite water underneath and inside your home.
Where Does Hail Occur?
In preparation for Colorado’s 5-month hail season, the following are some valuable statistics that answer crucial questions, where does hail occur, and where do hail storms usually occur?
- Hail occurs more frequently in the eastern plains of the Rockies than anywhere else in North America
- Hail is variable and can occur in any location throughout the country from year to year; essentially more than any other climatic event such as a hurricane or tornado
- Destructive hail occurs most frequently on the western Great Plains
- Thunderstorms with strong winds and accompanying hail significantly increase the damage potential
- “Hail alley” is a region from southeast Wyoming, northeast Colorado, western Nebraska, and Kansas that produces not necessarily the largest hail but the most frequent hail in the United States. This region is uniquely susceptible to hail due to its location near the Rocky Mountains.
- Colorado hailstorms occur most frequently in June and are most likely to be destructive in mid-June; in parts of southeastern Colorado, including Pueblo, August is the worst hail month
- Large hailstones of 1 to 2 inches in diameter (similar to a golf ball) may fall up to 80 miles per hour and occur many times in eastern Colorado each summer
- Stones as large as 4.5 inches in diameter have been observed in northeastern Colorado and can cause incredible damage; a hailstone of this size will not only cause damage to a roof but also can penetrate a roof
- On August 13, 2019, the largest hailstone recorded in Colorado was found near Bethune, measuring 4.83 inches in diameter, which is roughly the size of a softball, and weighed more than a half-pound
- There has been one death but numerous injuries in Colorado because of hail
- Hail also occurs very frequently in the high Colorado mountains during summer, but these hailstones tend to be small and soft and rarely do damage
- Hail falls faster and hits harder in Colorado compared to lower elevations. For example, a one-inch hailstone that hits the ground at 50 mph at sea level will reach 54 mph in Denver, potentially leading to more significant damage in our Mile High City.
- According to an April 2020 NICB Hail Report, Colorado had the second-highest number of hail claims in the US from 2017 to 2019 (380,066), second only to Texas. Texas was the top state in hail loss claims from 2017 through 2019, with 637,977 hail claims, except for 2018, where Colorado had the highest claims. Over the three years covered by this report, May had the highest monthly average for hail loss claims with 621,945. June was next with 586,749. March (368,885); April (346,214) and July (277,363) round out the top five.
How Does Hail Vary from Season to Season?
When does hail occur? Hail season begins in mid-spring, but hail in summer is the most common.
But what causes hail in summer? The ground warms more rapidly in the spring than the overlying air, which gets heated by the earth. Higher altitudes require longer to heat than those closer to the ground, which creates a gap between warm air and cold air. This gap destabilizes the atmosphere, creating cumulonimbus clouds required for hail to form. In fall, this weather pattern gets reversed as the surface cools more rapidly than the air above it, and the atmosphere is seldom so unstable.
When is hail season depends on where you live? Hail tends to occur later in the calendar year in the northern states than in the southern states. This is no surprise because the boundary between the cold and warm air masses migrates northward as summer approaches.
When is the Hail Season in Colorado?
Hail season in Colorado typically extends from mid-April through mid-September, although hail can occur earlier or later in the year. The most destructive hail in Colorado occurs in June; specifically in parts of southeastern Colorado, August is the worst hail month.
Large hailstones of 1 to 2 inches in diameter (like a golf ball) may fall up to 80 miles per hour and occur many times in eastern Colorado each summer.
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Where Can I Find Colorado Hail Storm Reports?
Many hailstorm reporting services are available, including your local broadcast news, free online services such as StormerSite, and paid services like HailStrike, OneClick Code, and AccuWeather for Business.
Most homeowners and curious consumers are quite satisfied with free services that simply share that there was hail in your local area, the number of hailstones reported, and any damages to cars, windshields, roofs, and more.
Insurance companies have shifted to using specific services that indicate the path of the hailstorm over a particular property – not just in the general area like a zip code. This is helpful and detrimental when homeowners file an insurance claim for damages.
The insurance company may approve or deny a claim simply because of a 3rd-party report that may or may not be accurate. Reports should be used for a general idea, but insurance companies should also prioritize their inspection results that identify new hail damage on a roof over a report.
Insurance companies do not always have the best interests of their policyholders, regardless of how that’s conveyed in advertising and marketing materials. Insurance companies are running a for-profit business and make decisions in the best interests of achieving revenue and profit goals as the top priority.
Like StormerSite, several national networks save hail data from storms available for public use. For example, in partnership with the Storm Prediction Center, the National Severe Storms Lab archives all their storm reports from the public and public service employees. This Storm Events Database contains all reported data from 1950 to the present. You can choose to see hail, tornadoes, or any other type of severe weather report.
Recent Hail Storms in Colorado
On August 13, 2019, the largest hailstone from a Colorado hailstorm was found near Bethune, measuring 4.83 inches in diameter, roughly a softball size, and weighing more than a half-pound. The previous record in Colorado was 4.5 inches in diameter. Hailstones that heavy can reach speeds of more than 100 miles per hour, which can be highly damaging to personal property and dangerous to anyone caught out in a storm.
Anyone in the Denver metro area will remember our most recent and severe storm on May 8, 2017. This severe storm dropped large hailstones across many parts of the Denver metro area. While not the size of a grapefruit, this hail event was catastrophic and the costliest to our Denver community due to the broad swath of geography that was impacted, causing $2.3 billion in damages.
According to StormerSite, the most recent hailstorm in 2021 was September 3, 2021, in Denver, with two additional storm dates in metro Denver on June 13 and August 19. The largest hailstone size reported was 1.5-inches. There was no reported hail in the Denver metro area in 2020. In 2019, there were eight different Colorado hailstorms, ranging from May 26 to August 21.
When is hail season in Colorado Springs? Similarly, in Colorado Springs, in 2020, there were five hail events, dating from June 26 to August 15, with up to 2-inch diameter hailstone size reported. And there were also five hail events in 2021, with up to 1 ¾ inch hailstones, but only between May 2 and June 19.
We are entering the Denver hail season in 2022, so we will see what Colorado hail damage happens this year and where does it hail the most?
What Should I Do After a Hailstorm in Colorado?
Please note the following tips if you believe a Colorado hail storm has damaged your roof.
- Record the date of the hailstorm
- Contact a reputable local roofing contractor to complete a roof inspection before filing a claim with your insurance company
- Be wary of any roofing company or individual who knocks on your door immediately following a hailstorm. While some individuals may be reputable, we strongly recommend contacting a reputable local roofing company – not a storm-chaser. And never hand over any money on the spot.
- If your roofing contractor discovers hail damage, it is vital to file a claim with your insurance company immediately. Some insurance companies have strict time limits on when you can file a claim.
- Your insurance company will perform its independent inspection. We recommend you have your selected roofing contractor available when the insurance adjuster comes to assess the roof. It is essential to follow your insurance company’s guidelines regarding the claim.
- Do not attempt to fix or repair your roof on your own
Having a trusted roofing contractor is a great way to know whether your roof has hail damage.
How to Prevent Hail Damage?
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to prevent hail damage to your roof. However, there are several things one can do to limit the risk of damage to your property.
The following highlights how to prepare for hail:
- Pay careful attention to local weather forecasts when severe weather and hail are possible. Hailstones range in size and speed and can cause extensive property damage to your home, vehicles, and even you. Be safe and take immediate shelter as necessary.
- Keep your car covered in a garage to avoid hail damage to the metal or cracked windshields
- Fold your patio umbrella to avoid holes from hailstones
- Install high-quality roofing materials like Class 4 shingles that are more impact resistant and designed to withstand up to 2-inch hailstones
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