30 of the most devastating hailstorms in U.S. history

Written by:
July 16, 2019
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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.

1995: Dallas and Fort Worth, TX

- Hailstorm date: May 5, 1995

The 1995 Mayfest storm was a supercell that hit the Fort Worth area May 5 and 6, 1995. The storm is so named because it struck while the outdoor music festival Mayfest was happening. Festival-goers were struck by hailstones reaching 4 inches in width. The hail injured more than 100, with deaths from the storm being accounted to accompanying flash flooding and lightning. The storm, at the time, was the costliest in American history at over $2 billion in damages.

2000: Lake Worth, TX

- Hailstorm date: March 29, 2000

The last American known to die from a hail strike was killed on March 29, 2000, in Lake Worth, Texas, when a softball-sized hailstone struck Juan Oseguera's head. Oseguera was 19 at the time.

2000: Chicagoland, IL

- Hailstorm date: May 18, 2000

One of the most infrastructure-impairing hailstorms hit the Chicagoland area in 2000. With hailstones reaching softball size, the storm heavily impacted McHenry, Lane, Kane, and Cook counties, with over 100,000 homes losing power and hail accumulation hitting over 3 inches. Flight and train services were impacted, compromising travel plans across the nation.

2001: St. Louis, MO

- Hailstorm date: April 10, 2001

The most destructive hailstorm regarding property damage in the United States happened in 2001, when the I-70 corridor from eastern Kansas to southwestern Illinois was devastated by a series of storms that yielded baseball-sized hailstones. The storm caused over $2 billion in total damages. It is thought that almost every single home and place of business in St. Louis County was damaged by the storm.

2003: Aurora, NE

- Hailstorm date: June 22, 2003

The record for the largest hailstone was broken on June 22, 2003, when a 7-inch wide stone fell in Aurora, Neb. Hailstorms are formed by vertical cyclones of wind. The more powerful the storm, the stronger the wind, and the longer the stone can stay adrift—making them larger and larger. The hailstorm that hit the town came following an F2 tornado.

2006: San Marcos, TX

- Hailstorm date: April 20–21, 2006

Four-inch hail struck the Austin metropolitan-area city of San Marcos hard in 2006. The resulting damage led to over 10,000 auto-insurance claims and 7,000 property claims. While only one person was seriously injured, the damage was devastating to a local Toyota dealership.

2009: Denver, CO

- Hailstorm date: July 20, 2009

Colorado's second-worst hailstorm came in 2009, where the Denver metropolitan area was hit for $7667.6 million in damages ($914.3 million today). As most of Colorado's property is concentrated in the Denver metro area, Denver has been the site of seven of the state's 10 worst hailstorms in the last 11 years. In 2018, only Kansas and Texas had more hailstorms than Colorado.

2010: Oklahoma City, OK

- Hailstorm date: May 10 and 16, 2010

Two hailstorms—spaced less than a week apart—inflicted nearly $1.6 billion in property damage to the Oklahoma City metropolitan area. It was estimated that the storms yielded about 700 processed auto-insurance claims a day, with some northwest Oklahoma City neighborhoods being assessed with having more than 90% of roofs needing replacing.

2010: Vivian, SD

- Hailstorm date: July 23, 2010

The record for the largest hailstone—which stands today—was set on July 23, 2010, when a bowling ball-sized hailstone landed in Vivian, S.D. Measuring 7.87 inches in diameter and weighing nearly 2 pounds, the stone fell during a storm marked by 80 miles per hour winds and a brief tornado.

2010: Phoenix, AZ

- Hailstorm date: Oct. 5, 2010

A storm in 2010 peppered the Phoenix area with 2-inch hailstones. The barrage damaged cars, homes, and businesses to the tune of $2.7 billion in property damage. The situation left Arizona near the top of the list for states with the most insured property loss in 2010.

2010: Kalamazoo, MI

- Hailstorm date: April 5, 2010

Ping-pong ball-sized hail was reported in Kalamazoo, Mich., on April 5, 2010—damaging cherry trees and grape vineyards in the area. It was estimated at the time that half of Van Buren grapes production was severely compromised. The storm was marked by 72-mile-per-hour winds.

2012: St. Louis, MO

- Hailstorm date: April 28, 2012

The second-most expensive hailstorm in American history happened in St. Louis in 2012. The storms—two waves of supercells in close proximity—yielded baseball-sized hailstones that damaged businesses and homes in St. Charles and St. Louis counties in Missouri, St. Louis city, and Madison, St. Clair, Clinton, and Washington counties in Illinois. The storm yielded one injury and $41.6 billion in insured losses.

2012: Dallas and Fort Worth, TX

- Hailstorm date: June 13, 2012

Softball-sized hailstones inflicted critical damage to the Dallas-Fort Worth area to the tune of $900 million. This was the fourth-most expensive hailstorm in Texas history at the time, with the storm also yielding an F0 tornado and 85 mile-per-hour winds.

2012: Oklahoma City, OK

- Hailstorm date: May 29, 2012

In 2012, parts of Oklahoma—including Oklahoma City—were in drought conditions. The rain was desperately hoped for. It came, along with baseball-sized hail. Two were beset with non-serious injuries from the storm that saw stones reach over 4 inches in diameter. Over 85,000 were left without power.

2013: Hinds County, MS

- Hailstorm date: March 18, 2013

Hinds County, Miss.—one of the three counties that host the state capital of Jackson—was subject to a hailstorm that also hit 13 other counties. The storm left extensive tree and property damage, but no injuries or death. Hailstones were reported to be the size of baseballs.

2014: Denton, TX

- Hailstorm date: April 3, 2014

In the Denton area of Texas in 2014, three tornadoes touched down in the same day. Two EF1s and one EF0 were reported in the area, as well as hail with a diameter of 3.5 inches and winds reaching 82 miles per hour; four injuries were also reported.

2016: San Antonio, TX

- Hailstorm date: April 16, 2016

The costliest hailstorm in Texas history, the April 2016 storm pummeled San Antonio with hailstones the size of grapefruit. With $1.4 billion in damages, the storm caused significant damage to homes, cars, and businesses.

2017: Denver, CO

- Hailstorm date: May 8, 2017

The most expensive hailstorm in Colorado history, the 2017 storm forced the closure of the Colorado Mills Mall and inflicted more damage than the state's worst wildfire. With the storm coming during the late day rush hour, many motorists attempting to get home had their cars damaged from the hail strikes. The storm yielded $2.3 billion in damages.

2017: Minneapolis, MN

- Hailstorm date: June 9, 2017

Lasting over a week, the storm reaching from Texas to Minnesota inflicted over $2.5 billion in hail damage to the Twin Cities area. Neighborhoods in Brooklyn Park, Coon rapids, and Blaine were destroyed, with the storm being ranked as one of the worst for the state of Minnesota in the last 20 years.

2018: Arapahoe, CO

- Hailstorm date: June 19, 2018

Half-dollar-sized ice balls pounded the Arapahoe, Colo., area in June 2019. The area, located east of the Denver metropolitan area near the state border, caused damage to crops, dented cars, and broke windows. Roof damage in the area was significant, inviting the possibility of water damage.


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