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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
Most Americans are familiar with the annual hurricane season that plagues the U.S. southeast and Gulf Coast states. Americans also know of Tornado Alley, the heartland states that are struck by dangerous -- sometimes fatal -- whirlwinds each spring and summer.
Tornadoes rapidly blow away homes, schools and even whole towns. Worse, they are liable to kill people, pets and livestock trapped in the violent vortexes.
On the other hand, Hail Alley is far less well known, unless you live in the mile-high plain that runs along Colorado's Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Hail Alley actually extends from Texas and Oklahoma into the Dakotas.
“This is ground pounded year after year by the highest frequency of large hail in North America,” Jennifer Oldham writes in the Washington Post. The hailstorms are “a climatic phenomenon responsible in this country for causing about as much damage in an average year as hurricanes.”
Baseball-Size Hail on August 6 Caused Billions of Dollars in Damage
The area’s most recent hailstorm of baseball-size ice balls on August 6 caused billions of dollars in damage. "The fusillade was over in a matter of minutes,” Oldham reported.
The hail injured 14 people. Also, numerous animals were killed by the storm and hundreds of cars were damaged or totaled at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
A historic hailstorm in Kansas City, on April 10, 2001, resulted in an estimated $2 billion in damage to crops and property alone. That’s according to a blog post by Pie, an engineering and consulting firm based in Arvada, Colorado.
And as “the metropolitan areas nestled at the base of the Rocky Mountains here keep growing, the potential for greater and more costly destruction keeps growing, too,” Oldham warned. This year probably will be the 11th year in a row "in which hail-pummeled homeowners incur at least $10 billion in losses."
Scientist Predicts Future Storms Will Produce Even Larger Hailstones
The worst may be yet to come. As Andreas Prein of the National Center for Atmospheric Research told the Post, data from high-resolution models show how hailstorms might behave by the year 2099. He expects those future storms will produce larger, rather than smaller, hailstones. “There is a real threat that climate change will increase the hazard quite a lot,” Prein said.
That warning pertains not only to Hail Alley. A panel of scientists at the 2018 North American Workshop on Hail and Hailstones predicted that hailstorms “may shift regionally and potentially intensify with climate change.”
In fact, Ian Giammanco, the lead research meteorologist at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, told the workshop that hail is “a forgotten peril.” He said hail “is responsible for almost 70 percent of the property damage of insurance claims from severe storms in the U.S. each year.”
“It’s time to attack this problem,” Giammanco said, “and find new ways to advance our ability to forecast, detect, and hopefully mitigate the hazards” that hailstorms create.