Why Is Hail So Destructive?

hand holding a large hailstone

How to Know When Hail Will Cause Damage

Hail is very much a part of Colorado’s storm season, and it is the primary culprit in millions of dollars in insurance claims every year. To understand why hail is so destructive, it is useful to learn how and why it occurs in the first place. Reviewing the science of hail formation can also be helpful in predicting when it might happen next.

What Is Hail?

Hail is a kind of frozen precipitation that occurs during a thunderstorm. It begins as water droplets (rain) that are carried upwards by strong wind currents called “updrafts.” These updrafts direct the water droplets high enough in the atmosphere to freeze. Hailstones grow bigger when they collide with liquid water droplets, which freeze on contact. 

You can tell how quickly one of these liquid water droplets froze by the appearance of the hailstone. If it has a uniform, cloudy appearance, the freezing process happened quickly. If there is a clear ring around a cloudy center, the process was slower.

What Is the Difference Between Hail and Sleet?

While hail and sleet are both a kind of frozen precipitation, they are not the same thing. Hail happens only during a thunderstorm during the warmer months. Hailstones have the potential to grow quite large. The current record fell in central South Dakota in 2010. It measured 8 inches across-larger than a honeydew melon.

Sleet, on the other hand, occurs during the winter months. It begins as partially melted snow flakes that are re-frozen into small pellets on the way to the ground. Sleet is typically no bigger than a grain of sand when it reaches us. 

When Is Hail Most Destructive?

While most thunderstorms form hail, the hailstones do not always fall to the ground. In order to do this, the stones must grow large enough and heavy enough to overcome the updrafts. The exact size needed will vary depending on the speed and strength of these updrafts. In general, though, we start to see hail on the ground when it has reached the size of a pea. 

Even pea-sized hail can cause problems, but the damage is usually minimal. Real destruction starts to occur when hailstones reach the size of a quarter (1 inch across) or larger. 

Obviously, bigger stones are heavier, which causes more damage. But heavier hailstones also fall faster: 1 inch hailstones that you might expect during a severe thunderstorm can reach speeds of up to 40 mph. The largest “supercell” stones, which exceed 4 inches in diameter, have the potential to travel at up to 100 mph.

Again, most severe thunderstorms result in hail that is 1-1.5 inches across. This type of hail has been known to damage roof shingles, plants, and paint. Golf ball-sized hail (1.75-2 inches across) can dent cars and crack windows. Hailstones that exceed 2.5 inches across can smash completely through windshields and cause massive damage to crops. 

How to Prepare for Hail

The best way to prepare for hail is to keep an eye on the weather. If thunderstorms are in the forecast, you can generally assume that hail is a possibility. Bring delicate plants inside, shutter or reinforce windows, and make sure your car is in the garage or under a covering. If a severe storm is expected, you may want to unplug appliances.

You will also want to review your insurance. Make sure your homeowners insurance includes a hail policy. If you live in an area that is frequently impacted by hail, you may also want to upgrade your auto insurance to include comprehensive coverage. 

Trouble Filing an Insurance Claim?

While you can prepare in some respects for a hailstorm, there is not much you can do to prevent damage to certain parts of your property, such as your roof. If your roof has significant storm damage and you are having difficulty filing your claim, an experienced insurance attorney can help. 

David Roth specializes in representing policyholders and can help you with all aspects of the claims process. He has helped hundreds of clients all over Colorado by negotiating a fair and timely settlement. Contact our office or go online today to schedule a free consultation

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