30 of the most devastating hailstorms in U.S. history
The year 2017 was the worst on record for hail damage in the United States. Per the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, the country suffered more than $22 billion in insured losses. This is more than the losses for a typical hurricane. In the Midwest and the South, auto insurance holders are prohibited from having comprehensive coverage due to the high cost of hail damage.
Hail is frozen rain that is larger and heavier than other forms of ice precipitation, such as sleet, graupel, and ice pellets. Formed in thunderstorms, hail happens when a strong updraft pushes rain into cumulonimbus clouds. If the freezing level is lowered, such as during a tornado in the inland areas of the country, the rain will freeze. The new ice crystal will drop, attracting new rain droplets, before being pushed back up the wind cyclone to freeze and drop again. This repeats for as long as the updraft can support the ice crystal.
Once the ice ball becomes so heavy the updraft can no longer keep it afloat, it will drop to the ground. This is known as hail. While it is rare to die from these ice blasts, the high velocity and weight of these ice balls have been known to shatter windows, punch holes in roofs, damage wall siding, kill plants and livestock, and dent cars. While most hail stays small, occasionally, a strong storm will produce hailstones of monstrous sizes.
Stacker has looked at the meteorological data for the United States to determine the 30 most destructive cases of hail in the nation's history. For this list, we looked at the cost of the storm in human lives and property damage. Note the list is limited to storms that had a reported or estimated property damage tally of $100 million or more.
This list is ordered in chronological order, and not in order of damage validation. Experts say 2019 is believed to be on pace to break the record for hail damage. As with tornadoes and hurricanes, climate change is believed to make hail more likely, adding a new headache for property owners.
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1784: Wateree River, SC
- Hailstorm date: June 23, 1784
In 1784, eight people were reported killed by a single hailstorm. This is the largest reported death toll from a single hailstorm in the United States. Per a report from the South Carolina Gazette, the ice balls reached circumferences of 9 inches and killed a wide array of sheep and geese.
1928: Potter, NE
- Hailstorm date: July 6, 1928
The largest hailstone ever recorded at the time fell July 6, 1928, in Potter, Neb. It measured a whopping 17 inches in circumference and weighed in at 1.5 pounds. The Potter hailstone wasn't usurped in size until 1970 by a hailstorm in Coffeyville, Kansas.
1959: Selden, KS
- Hailstorm date: June 3, 1959
One of the largest hailstorms by total precipitation dropped happened on June 3, 1959, when 18 inches of hail accumulated in Selden, Kan. Covering an area of 140 square kilometers, the heavy, motionless storm pummeled the area, leaving the region white with ice. The storm devastated the crops that year, with damages totaling a half of a million dollars. The storm lasted 85 minutes, making it one of the longest hailstorms in American history.
1960: Southern California
- Hailstorm date: Sept. 2, 1960
On Sept. 2, 1960, golf ball and baseball-sized hailstones hits Los Angeles, with some stones weighing in at over 1 pound. The storm also hit Riverside County, while San Bernardino was subjected to severe thunder. With 2 to 3 inches of precipitation, the storm was the largest hailstorm in Southern California history.
1967: Los Angeles County, CA
- Hailstorm date: Dec. 1, 1967
Seven years after the storm of 1960, Los Angeles County was hit again by a major hailstorm. The storm covered much of the county in hail, giving the appearance of a snowstorm. The hail came due to a severe thunderstorm, where lightning struck a Manhattan Beach oil tanker, making it explode.
1970: Coffeyville, KS
- Hailstorm date: Sept. 3, 1970
On Sept. 3, 1970, the largest hailstorm to fall in the United States at the time hit Coffeyville, Kan. The stone, weighing 1.67 pounds, was 5.7 inches in diameter—making it roughly the size of a softball.
1979: Fort Collins, CO
- Hailstorm date: July 30, 1979
For 40 minutes, the Fort Collins area of Colorado was peppered by grapefruit-sized hailstones. The July 30 storm injured 25—most with head injuries—while damaging over 2,000 homes and 2,500 cars. A 3-month-old baby was also killed from a fractured skull.
1980: Orient, IA
- Hailstorm date: Aug. 1, 1980
During a hailstorm in the summer of 1980, Ferris Wheel riders in Orient, Iowa, were left stranded when the storm knocked out power to the ride. Left exposed, they were assaulted by the ice balls, with some reaching 3 inches in diameter. Forty-seven people were severely injured.
1990: Denver, CO
- Hailstorm date: July 11, 1990
Colorado is in part in Hail Alley, where the highest frequency of hailstorms occurs in North America. In 1990, the third most expensive hailstorm hit the Denver metropolitan area, when softball-sized ice balls destroyed roofs and cars to the tune of $625 million in damages ($1.22 billion in 2019 dollars).
1992: Wichita, KS
- Hailstorm date: June 19, 1992
Two separate hailstorms—six hours apart from each other—hit the Wichita metropolitan area, inflicting half a billion dollars in property damage and $100 million in crop damage. The wheat harvest for the year was lost, leaving the storm one of the most destructive in Kansas state history. The storm left over 10,000 homes damaged.2018 All rights reserved.