Researchers are pushing for more research to better understand and predict hailstorms
Sept. 23 – As the state and US continue to invest in research and mitigation work to prevent or mitigate the effects of natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires, researchers are also urging people to be aware of a weather phenomenon that may not seem so dangerous but has cost Colorado and the country billions in home and vehicle damage while still harming people and animals.
This weather phenomenon is a hailstorm, and while it can sometimes produce tiny balls of ice smaller than peas, it has been known to produce much larger, more destructive hailstones.
“There’s sometimes very damaging hail in the Front Range,” said Andrew Heymsfield, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “In 2017, there was a $2.3 billion hailstorm that hit Denver. Then the next year there was one in Colorado Springs that was killing animals at the zoo.”
Heymsfield and other hail experts met Thursday at NCAR in Boulder to discuss the damage and dangers hailstorms pose and how forecasts can be improved during a press conference for the second North American Hail and Hailstorm Workshop. to mitigate future destruction.
In the 1970s, the US conducted the National Hail Research Experiment to test a Soviet Union seeding hypothesis that hail could be mitigated by cloud seeding, a weather modification technique aimed at creating a cloud’s ability to produce rain or snow, by introducing tiny ice cores into certain types of sub-freezing clouds. But the hypothesis failed.
“Since then,[hail mitigation]hasn’t seemed to pose much of a threat,” Heymsfield said. “Maybe it would have been different if Washington, D.C. had been hit by hail, but a big part of that is also that the major population centers — the East and West Coasts — haven’t been hit by hailstorms as (dangerously as what happened in). the high plains and the Midwest. Now that perspective is changing.”
Now he and other researchers want to improve hailstorm research and have proposed a new field project they call the In-situ Collaborative Experiment for Collection of Hail in the Plains, which they have proposed to the National Science Foundation.
“Essentially, we would be chasing hailstorms,” said Rebecca Adams-Selin of Verisk Atmospheric and Environmental Research. “Our goal would be to scan the storms and with mobile radar data (to) be able to observe them (and) fully understand what’s going on and then also get ahead of the storm and put down all sorts of instruments, let.” it pass and then hail will fall on all our instruments.”
From there, scientists could learn about the size distribution of hail, how far hail falls across a storm, and how it varies, Adams-Selin said.
“There are hundreds of different questions – what forms (of hail) will fall? How can we try to identify that from our radar data?” she asked. “A lot of exciting things can come from that, and there’s obviously been a lot of technological advances over the last 40 years. This could mean a great leap forward for hail research.”
Not only do researchers want to improve research on hailstorms and forecasting methods, they are also pushing for alternative construction methods to build homes that withstand hailstorms, especially as more development takes place in hail-prone regions, said Ian Giammanco, senior director for standards and data analysis and lead research meteorologist at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.
“Hail accounts for about 60 to 80 percent of the damage caused by severe thunderstorms each year,” Giammanco said. “A lot of us are drawn to tornadoes or wind damage that we see so often, but hailstorms happen all the time and it hits a lot of things and that’s a lot of material that needs replacing.”
As more homes are built, they won’t all be built with materials that can survive hailstorms, Giammanco said. There were 28 reported hailstorms in Boulder County last year. No specific data was available to show how much damage Boulder County suffered from hailstorms, but Colorado’s costliest disaster was hail. It occurred in the Denver metro area in 2017 and caused $2.3 billion in insured losses, according to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Association.
Heymsfield said the Front Range didn’t suffer major damage over the past year, but from 2017-19 Boulder County had very hail-active areas that resulted in a lot of damage.
“That’s the whole goal there – how do we bend that loss curve down?” asked Giammanco. “How do we take all of this scientific information that we’ve been talking about and apply it to at least start reducing the damage we’ve seen from hail events year after year?”