More than halfway through hail season, Colorado Springs has so far dodged the destruction that pelted the city in recent years.
On Friday, golf-ball size hail was reported in Briargate and pea-size hail fell in Fountain.
But compared to the past three years, the hail has been sporadic and mostly tame.
On June 13, 2018, thousands of houses and cars were damaged by large hail during the worst overnight storm in El Paso County in more than 20 years.
Between 1 and 3 a.m., hailstones up to 3 inches in diameter pummeled Fountain, Fort Carson and other areas southeast of Colorado Springs. The last time the county was hit by a severe hailstorm overnight was in 1995, when 2-inch hail fell, according to the National Weather Service in Pueblo.
Two years prior, on July 28, 2016, parts of Colorado Springs were buried under near baseball-size hail which smashed roofs, broke windows, punched holes in siding and left thousands of cars with dents resembling golf balls.
That storm was the sixth-most damaging event in Colorado history, triggering $352.8 million in claims for damage to homes and vehicles, according to a Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association estimate.
Last year, softball-size hail struck Cheyenne Mountain Zoo on Aug. 6, killing five animals, injuring others and sending five people to the hospital. Damage to buildings forced the zoo to close for four days.
Fountain was hit with its third major hailstorm in two months. Hailstones as big as golf balls and baseballs were reported there.
Colorado is among a handful of states in what is known as “hail alley,” but trying to predict when and where hailstorms will happen and how severe they’ll be isn’t easy, even for experts.
It’s not uncommon to see hail season in Colorado go from March into November if the conditions are right, said KKTV meteorologist Brian Bledsoe.
And the conditions here seem to be just perfect.
Colorado has been described by meteorologists as the “perfect storm” when it comes to favorable hail conditions.
The atmosphere is able to stay colder longer due to the high altitude, said Bledsoe. Colorado has the mountains, the upslope and winds from the east.
“It’s a very favorable spot for hail,” Bledsoe said. “It’s too early to say that this year isn’t like last year because we have a lot of time left.”
National Weather Service meteorologist Kathleen Torgerson said forecasters look for several factors in the formation of a hailstorm.
The first is instability, which happens when the ground is heated more rapidly than the air. When that mixes with moisture from storm clouds and wind shear, hail forms.
Mountains are a good source for elevated heating to act on and cause instability, said Torgerson. That, combined with Colorado’s high altitude, creates frequent conditions for dangerous hail.
At an elevation of over 6,000 feet, places like Colorado Springs have less chances for hail to melt before reaching the ground, Torgerson said.
The state’s largest recorded hailstone measured 4½ inches in diameter. The largest hailstone in the country, 8 inches in diameter and nearly 2 pounds, fell in South Dakota in July 2010.
The rapidness of Colorado hailstorms make them especially difficult to prepare for, said Jenny Koch, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo marketing director.
“Of course (predicting hail) would be great,” Koch said. “A crystal ball would be great, too, but that’s probably not going to happen. Being able to know a little bit more in a detailed way would be helpful.”
With a booming population, more people are living in the path of hail, said Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association Director Carole Walker.
“People really need to be financially prepared before the next storm,” said Walker. She encouraged Coloradans to check what they’re covered for extensively, and see if they have a separate hail deductible.
The most costly hailstorm in Colorado occurred on May 8, 2017 with $2.3 billion in insured losses, the association’s data shows. Last year’s hail season totaled an estimated $618 million in insured losses and more than 100,000 auto and homeowners claims.
In the notorious Aug. 2018 hailstorm, Walker estimated 60% of Colorado Springs cars were deemed totaled.
A 2016 study by the National Insurance Crime Bureau ranked Colorado second in the nation for hail loss claims between 2013 and 2015.
Last year, Colorado surpassed Texas for the most costly hail damage on homes and vehicles insured by State Farm, according to a report released by the insurance company.
State Farm policyholders from Colorado filed 66,800 claims totaling $598 million for hail damage to homes and vehicles, including 24,402 claims totaling $380 million for damage to homes and 42,414 claims totaling $218 million for damage to vehicles, according to the company’s annual hail report.
Texas ranked second with $437 million in claims, followed by Illinois, Minnesota and Nebraska. The company paid $2.7 billion in 2018 on more than 280,000 hail-related claims.