Why Large Hail Is an Underrated Danger and Poses a Major Threat to People and Property

Chris Dolce
Published: April 17, 2019

When it comes to severe weather, tornadoes dominate the headlines and are generally the most feared, but large hail is also a major threat to property and people.

(MORE: Don't Ignore Severe Thunderstorm Warnings

Hail is the predominant driver of losses caused by severe thunderstorms, according to meteorologist Steve Bowen of Aon Benfield. Of the estimated $10 billion in losses annually from severe thunderstorms during the past decade, Bowen said that hail accounts for at least half the cost to both property and agricultural insurance entities. Losses from severe thunderstorms also includes tornadoes and wind damage.

Nearly all of the windows in this Wylie, Texas, home were knocked out by a hailstorm on April 11, 2016.
(Twitter/WylieBear1)

Recent years have provided an example of how hailstorms can be especially costly when they strike a major metropolitan area.

In June 2018, a $2.2 billion hailstorm pelted homes and vehicles in the Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins, Colorado urban corridor. That same month, hailstorms also caused more than a billion dollars in damage in Texas, particularly across the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

Colorado, including the Denver metro area, was hit by another multibillion-dollar hailstorm in May 2017.

Hailstorms in northern and central Texas in April 2016 caused $3.5 billion in damage over three days. The San Antonio metro was particularly hard hit.

Large hail can cause significant injury if you are caught outside without shelter. An estimated 24 people are injured by large hail each year, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.

The photo below show the welts all over the body of a runner that was caught outside in a hailstorm in Iowa during the spring of 2010.


(Courtesy: Pat Crawford)

Large gatherings of people with little available shelter are especially susceptible to hailstorms. In May of 1995, 10,000 people were caught outside during Mayfest in Fort Worth, Texas, with little shelter available. More than 400 people were injured, including 60 who were seriously injured and required hospitalization.

A baseball-size hailstone falls at a speed comparable to a baseball thrown from a major league pitcher - near 100 mph, according to the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL). That's a good indication of why injuries from large hail can be so severe.

Reported deaths from hail in the United States are very rare. You have to go back more than a decade to find the last deadly hailstorm. On March 28, 2000 a pizza deliveryman was killed by baseball to softball size hail in Fort Worth, Texas. There's been a couple other reports of deaths in the U.S. in the last one hundred years, one in Fort Collins, Colorado, on July 30, 1979 and another in Lubbock, Texas on May 13, 1930.

The deadliest hailstorm in the world occurred in India on April 30, 1888, when 246 people were killed.

The majority of hail reports each year typically occur in the Plains when atmospheric conditions are ripe for development. From 2009-2018, May and June averaged nearly 3000 reports of severe hail. Severe hail, which the National Weather Service issues warnings for, is classified as one inch or larger (quarter-size).

Typical damage from hail-

-Quarter-size (1 inch) - Damage to shingles

-Golf ball (1.75 inches) - Dents on cars

-Baseball (2.75 inches) - Windshields smashed

-Softball (4.5 inches) - Holes in roof


The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.