Hailstorm, Colorado the Hail Capital

Updates from the Hail Capital

A unique mixture of climate and geography makes for an uncertain future

Colorado is a state known for its natural landscapes and geographical variety, featured within some truly beautiful environments. Along with this bevy of gorgeous natural wonders, Colorado is also a state known for its extreme weather. Tornadoes, flash floods, hail – Coloradoans have experienced them all. In fact, Colorado most often receives 3-4 big hailstorms annually, each one totaling up to $25 million in insured damages, at minimum. But why are the hailstorms of the Centennial state so extreme? In order to answer this question, it might help to take a closer look at Colorado’s geography and climate, in relation to the state’s experiences with hail.

Hail Capital

Colorado’s Front Range Mountains form part of the Southern Rocky Mountains. The Front Range itself covers an area up to 50 miles wide and 300 miles long, extending from Casper, Wyoming to Fremont County, Colorado. Spectacular Rocky Mountain National Park itself lies entirely within the borders of the Front Range Mountains. But unfortunately, the picturesque Front Range Mountains also tend to attract severe hailstorms.

Dubbed the Hail Capital, Colorado’s Front Range is the site of 13 severe hailstorms annually on average, specifically between the cities of Denver to Colorado Springs. Colorado is also a part of Hail Alley itself, which includes sections of several other states, among them Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming. Bigger hailstones hit Hail Alley more often than anywhere else in North America, and much of the world.

In order to comprehend the actual severity of hail events in Colorado, it may be helpful to take a look at an overview of hail loss claims submitted in Colorado, comparing this data to similar claims submitted elsewhere in the United States.

According to a report by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) on Hail Loss Claims in the United States from 2017-2019, Colorado was surpassed only by Texas in the number of total hail loss claims for these three years. Texas reported 637,977 hail loss claims from 2017-2019 followed by Colorado with 380,066 hail loss claims. These hail loss claims submitted from 2017-2019 were made primarily under Personal Property – Homeowners policies, followed by Personal Auto policy claims. In addition, among the top 10 cities in the United States with the highest reported hail claim losses from this three-year period, four Colorado metropolitan areas are featured: Denver, Colorado Springs, Greeley, and Lakewood.

According to this claims data, Colorado is the site of some of the most severe hail events in the country. What makes Colorado hailstorms so severe? It’s not necessarily the size of the hailstones, but the speed and force with which the hailstones fall, which is caused in part by the higher elevations of the Front Range – hailstones just don’t have as far to travel before making contact with the ground, and tend to cause more damage when they do.

Contributing Factors

Colorado’s high elevations also make it less likely for hail to melt before reaching the ground, as the hailstones have less space and time to convert to rain. And these same higher elevations also make it easier for winds to get that moisture up into the freezing plane of the atmosphere where hail forms in the first place, as the winds themselves have less distance to travel.

Another factor in the mix is Colorado’s dry climate. Dry winds help to contribute to the formation of hail. Colorado’s geography and climate thus appear to gift this unfortunate state with the perfect mixing ground for some of the United States’ most horrific hailstorms. And these storms can occur during a hail season which is at its peak from May to July, for the most part. While the worst hailstorms usually occur from the middle of Spring to early Fall, or mid-April to mid-September.

Denver’s CBS 4 outlined more about how and why hail forms so often in Colorado in an informative article, pointing out that in summer months, Colorado is home to a lot of chilly mixed-phase clouds, which are where hail forms. A mixed-phase cloud forms when both water droplets and ice coexist within the cloud itself. Hail starts with a strong wind and a thunderstorm. As moisture is carried by these high winds up into a mixed-phase cloud, hailstones start to form by a process called accretion. As the hailstones get heavier, they start falling when the wind can’t carry them anymore. Stronger winds therefore equal larger hailstones.

Property Damage and Climate Change Effects

Yet, again, Colorado appears to have just the right mixture of both climate and geography, resulting in an abundance of hail. But what about climate change – are warmer temperatures affecting hailstorms? It may be too soon to say for certain. According to Andreas Prein of Boulder’s National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), larger hailstones may result from the higher winds caused by increasing temperatures, but these same temperature increases may also melt them midair. And in the view of Nolan Doesken, previously a climatologist for the state, the possibility of hail may actually decrease with the higher temperatures brought on by climate change.

While it at least appears that hailstorms may not be getting worse, the damage currently done, in Colorado and elsewhere, is severe enough. According to a 2019 article by 5280.com, for over a decade, the United States has weathered more than $10 billion in hail-related property damages each year. The insurance industry has paid a significant amount to repair those damages, which has in turn caused changes in how the industry itself provides coverage due to hail, including higher coverage costs, exclusion of cosmetic damages to roofs and the implementation of mandatory higher deductibles, which can mean a higher amount or a percentage of the total damages ranging from 1% to 5%.

The CSD Pool has not been immune to hail claims and has also instituted these higher deductibles and restricted coverage as a result. As a resident of Colorado, you may very possibly face property damage from hail at some point, but here are some tips for how to prepare for and respond to a hailstorm, as well as how the CSD Pool can help you repair or replace damaged property.

The Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association offers a few tips for members who have just experienced a hail storm.

  • Survey the destruction, taking in surrounding foliage, rooves, cars, etc.
  • Shield surviving structures from additional harm by covering up openings left by shattered windows, or holes in the rooves or walls.

After you’ve taken steps to stabilize any hail-damaged property, contact the CSD Pool to assess your Property Coverage and determine your options for repair and reimbursement.

How can we help?

First, sign up for SmartNotice. Available at no cost to our members, this notification service allows you to alert your staff to imminent approaching storms so that they can better prepare. Second, check into our Property Coverage, which offers potential coverage for members faced with hail damage. As reported in a prior article, a member’s deductible under Property Coverage caused by hail is 2% of the damaged property, subject to a $5,000 minimum and $50,000 maximum per occurrence with an option, for an additional annual contribution, to carry a flat $5,000 deductible per occurrence.

When a member has covered damage to at least 50% of the total roof area of a scheduled building or structure, the CSD Pool’s Property Coverage, with the selection of replacement cost valuation, will cover the cost to repair or replace the damage, subject to the applicable limit and wind and hail deductible. Cosmetic damage is excluded with some limited coverage availability for areas visibly apparent from the street.

For members with a scheduled owned vehicle with comprehensive coverage, damage to that vehicle caused by hail would be covered under the Auto Physical Damage form, subject to the selected deductible.  If the damage is minimal, for example a windshield with a chip or crack that is repairable without full replacement, CSD Pool will pay up to $50 for the repair and waive any applicable deductible.

Hiring a Contractor

When you are ready to tackle repairs, here are a few tips from an article by NICB and IBHS to consider:

  • Shop around and collect multiple estimates before selecting the contractor of your choice.
  • Choose contractors that are both licensed and insured.
  • Don’t select a contractor without first contacting their references.
  • Don’t accept any spoken agreements. Get all the details ironed out before signing a contract.
  • All completed work should be inspected and approved as up to code before you sign any acceptance of a concluded job or submit full payment.

Weathering a severe hailstorm will always be difficult, but you don’t have to do it alone. Consider possible changes to your Property Coverage and reach out to us regarding our SmartNotice service. And, as always, contact your team at the CSD Pool at info@csdpool.org with any questions.

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