Season of hail

As hail season begins, Colorado holds the title of most costly state for hail damage in the U.S.

Michael Moss

It’s that time of year again. The time when thunderstorms and fast-moving currents of warm air collide over the Front Range, lofting water high into the coldest part of supercell clouds, supercooling the water vapor and forming ice-pellets as small as peas and as large as grapefruits, which fall and pummel everything from homes to farmland to zoos.

Hail season in Colorado can be a brutal time of year. Running roughly from mid-April to mid-September, it’s an annual natural challenge that is getting more expensive as hail storms cause greater and greater damage. In 2018, Colorado surpassed Texas as the costliest state for hail damage to homes and vehicles as reported by State Farm. 

In May 2017, Colorado was hit with its costliest hailstorm in history, a battery that triggered 267,000 claims in the Denver region and caused $2.3 billion in damages, according to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association (RMIIA). 

Then in June 2018, a wave of vicious hailstorms swept across the Front Range, one after the next: the first hit Fountain and resulted in $169 million in damages. Days later, the Denver area, along with Louisville and Superior, was hit with another storm that resulted in $2.2 billion in damages. And in August, several people were injured and five animals were killed by hail at the Cheyanne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, in a storm that caused nearly $173 million worth of damage.

All of which raised everyone’s insurance premiums.

The number of State Farm claims filed in 2018 was 57 percent higher than in 2017, the report shows. And, not surprisingly, that has forced up the price for insurance across the state. In 2018, Colorado saw the highest year-over-year rate increase for insurance prices in the country, rising 19 percent to $1,682 on average, according to Zebra’s 2019 State of Auto Insurance Report.

That is no trivial hike. And it illustrates how the cost of hail damage goes above and beyond the immediate price of repairs. That cost spreads past the physical damage, past those directly involved and well beyond the hailstorm itself, becoming a burden that everyone in Colorado ends up bearing — the burden of higher insurance premiums. 

“Colorado is in what we have historically called ‘Hail Alley,’” says Carole Walker, the executive director of RMIIA. “Hail has always been our most expensive insured catastrophe in Colorado. … Now, we’re outpacing the rest of the country on rising rates, unfortunately.”

That trend isn’t likely to change anytime soon, according to both insurance industry insiders and climate scientists. And not necessarily because these storms are getting more intense, more frequent or bigger — it’s more a problem of population growth, according to Russel Danielson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS). 

“It does not appear that [hailstorms] are becoming more common,” he says. “What is happening is the population is growing and therefore the amount of structures being built and houses and vehicles on the roads are rapidly expanding.”

Carole Walker agrees: “The number one factor is our booming population. Colorado has seen such tremendous growth recently, and unfortunately the path the hailstorms take is often through our most populated areas.”

Put simply: There’s just more stuff for hail to damage these days. Colorado is the seventh-fastest-growing state in the U.S., and just last year it gained 80,000 new residents. That’s 80,000 more people with more property under the Colorado sun, at the mercy of these violent Colorado storms. 

Michael Moss As hail damage increases, so do insurance premiums and the cost of repairs.

What can the state expect this year? How will 2019’s hail season compare to the catastrophes of years prior?

It’s hard to tell for sure this far out, Danielson says. But already a rare March tornado ripped through a family’s home in Payton, Colorado, northeast of Colorado Springs. And I-25 near Pikes Peak was closed on March 27 due to severe hail. 

Luckily, Danielson and other meteorologists at the NWS are keeping an eye out. They produce daily forecasts to keep people updated and informed about potential or incoming hailstorms. 

“We issue forecasts every day, especially around that May-to-June time,” says Danielson, adding that the NWS can pinpoint the likely path of a hailstorm, roughly determine the size of the hail that people on the ground will be dealing with, and then warn the area with a text message alert system. 

That, along with a good insurance policy, is the best line of defense against hail this spring and summer. And since it’s probably wise to assume that this year’s hail season will be at least as intense as the last few, now is not a bad time to double-check that insurance policy to make sure yours includes hail coverage.