Thousands of houses and cars were damaged early Wednesday 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 hail storm overnight was in 1995, when 2-inch hail fell, according to the National Weather Service in Pueblo.
Hail up to an inch also was reported near the Air Force Academy and Black Forest, the Weather Service reported.
"It was a historic event, considering the time of day," said Steve Hodanish, a Weather Service meteorologist. "It was a lot of damage. This will be a rather expensive event."
The storm comes nearly two years after parts of Colorado Springs was buried under near baseball-size hail on July 28, 2016, 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.
Just hours after this week's storm hit, Fountain residents were outside cleaning up debris from their driveways, boarding up windows on their homes, repairing what they could on their cars and calling insurance companies.
Jeff Sibel, a spokesman for Progressive, said the Ohio-based company - like other local insurance providers - has declared the Fountain storm a catastrophe and representatives at its Colorado Springs call center on Wednesday were taking claims from customers.
Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, said the insurance industry will have an estimate of the damage and total of all claims in about a week. The group recommends homeowners or vehicle owners contact their insurance agent or carrier to file a claim, document damage and keep any receipts from temporary repairs needed to prevent further damage.
Insurance giant USAA, which covers mostly active and retired military families, said it had received more than 4,000 claims by 11 a.m. Wednesday.
The San Antonio-based company also has sent its "catastrophe response vehicle" to the Fountain area to handle claims.
Farmers Insurance said it had received 700 claims by 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Army Sgt. Jackie Jordan said he woke to the sound of rain at his Fountain home along C&S Road between Fountain Mesa and Link roads, when suddenly "all hell broke loose."
He went outside with a flashlight and found his and his wife's cars hammered by the hail. The front and back windshields were damaged.
"I couldn't do anything but drop my head and walk back inside," said Jordan, whose house wasn't damaged.
About 50 cars along his three block street had shattered windshields and a few homes had broken windows and damage to siding.
Not far away, in the 700 block of Fountain Mesa Road, John Bullard and his wife, Kelly Wesley, were boarding up the front window of their home. They found hail in their living room.
Only one of their cars was damaged because Wesley drove the family's Jeep SUV to the Colorado Springs Airport to pick up her mother-in-law visiting from Georgia. Her plane sat on the tarmac for about three hours early Wednesday as airport officials waited out lightning, but no hail fell at the airport.
The family's other car was out in the open during the hailstorm because the garage door stopped working about a month ago.
"We've had the worst of luck," Wesley said.
Mark Richardson, government manager for The Doubletree by Hilton Colorado Springs hotel, said his home in the Camino del Rey subdivision in Fountain was pounded by hail.
"The sound was deafening," Richardson said. "My wife was terrified. I have never heard anything so loud and never seen hail that big, and we have lived in this area for 27 years, including 11 years in this house."
Richardson said windows, the roof, siding, deck, fence and barbecue grill also were damaged by the hail, and all the plants around their home were "destroyed." But the couple's cars were inside their garage, so they didn't get hit.
"Water started leaking through a light fixture and smoke detector about 2:30," Richardson said. "The smoke detector went off and then shorted out. I didn't get any sleep last night. The deck looked like somebody took a hammer to it."
When he left for work Wednesday morning, Richardson said his neighborhood "looked like a war zone with windshields and car windows broken out."
Rodney Gullatte Jr. said the storm damaged the roof, three windows and fence at his home in the Cumberland Green subdivision.
"The hail was the size of my fist!" Gullatte said. "At first it sounded like a lot of knocking but eventually I got up and looked outside. I got the kids out of their room and put them in our room and not long after that the window next to my bed shattered."
Fountain residents will have two weeks to repair windshields smashed in Wednesday night's hailstorm, police said.
Colorado does not have a law regarding broken windshields, but under federal law, drivers must be able to see out. Cracks cannot be in the driver's area of vision, and cracks and chips must be less than ¾-inch in diameter or within 3 inches of another crack.
All 10 Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 buildings in Fountain were damaged in Wednesday's storm, said spokeswoman Christy McGee.
"Mostly surface damage, with a lot of broken skylights and damaged roofs," she said.
District officials were assessing the aftermath of the storm Wednesday morning, McGee said, when baseball-size hail remained on some of the roofs at 10 a.m.
Metal sides of buildings, including some of the siding on the new Fountain Middle School that's scheduled to open in August, also were damaged.
The district's schools on Fort Carson property only had minor damage, according to McGee.
Several of Widefield School District 3's schools also were damaged. Roofs were leaking at Talbott, Webster, and King elementary schools, and Janitell Junior High, said spokeswoman Samantha Briggs. Skylights at Mesa Ridge High School also were damaged, she said.
The Gazette's Wayne Heilman, Debbie Kelley, Haley Candelario and Ellie Mulder contributed to this report.