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Cost of hail damage on the rise

Hail could soon become a $20 billion problem in the U.S.

COLORADO, USA — The cost of extreme weather is growing in the United States every year.

Hurricane Ian is projected to be one of the costliest tropical cyclones in history at likely more than $100 billion. Hurricane Katrina (2005) and Hurricane Harvey (2017) also topped $100 billion in damage. 

But another type of extreme weather, hail, is also becoming more costly despite another slow severe weather season compared to the average.

“We’re going on over a decade and a half over the $10 billion mark,” said Ian Giammanco, a research meteorologist at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS). "Hail is close to becoming a $20 billion a year problem in the United States." 

He said that 2021 was one of the slowest severe weather seasons in recent history and still did $16 billion in hail damage.

The costliest season in history was 2017 which was at $22 billion. The Colorado Front Range got hit hard that year including the $2.3 billon May 8 storm that dropped baseball size hail on the west Denver metro.

Giammanco said the increase in damage is partly due to climate change adding more energy to storms, but mostly a result of sprawling cities with more buildings.

At the IBHS lab in South Carolina, they study how home construction can better resist hail damage by physically simulating storms.

"We make our own hailstones, take electronically controlled potato guns and we fire them at different structures we build ourselves," he said. “It’s taking all that information from real-world storms, putting it in a lab, turning the knobs, and seeing how much damage it makes.”

Large hailstones, one inch in diameter or bigger, have been the focus of most damage research over the years. A severe thunderstorm warning is issued by the National Weather Service when a storm becomes strong enough to produce one inch or larger hail.

But Giammanco said one of the new things they’ve learned, is that hail doesn’t have to be large to cause roof damage. High amounts of small hail can also take a toll on your home.

“Out here in Colorado, we get those snowplow hail events all the time," he said. "Well that mass concentration of hail is actually is real good at knocking those little rocky graduals off roofs which then can accelerate the aging process, thereby making the roof more susceptible to the next hailstorm.”

He also said that small hail being driven sideways by strong winds can produce damage similar to larger hailstones. 

The City of Fort Collins is already applying this research in their building code ordinance according to Giammanco, becoming the first city in the country to require an impact rated roof for new builds and remodels.

“For us in the industry, we are excited to see how well this works." he said. "Can we detect that reduction in damage because they made a code change.”

Though since Ft. Collins upgraded their building code in 2019, the city has been relatively untested by large hailstorms. There hasn't been a single report of large hail one inch in diameter or larger in the past two years. 

Although, while the city limits has not been hit, large hail has fallen close by. One storm with massive hail just missed that area this July. 

Much of the Front Range has been surprisingly void of large hail events since 2019, but accumulating hail and wind driven small hail events have been plenty. 

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