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Severe Weather Awareness: Hail and Wind

While tornadoes get the bulk of the attention in severe weather threat discussions, the larger threat from an economic perspective is wind and hail.

Today’s topic for Severe Weather Awareness Week is wind and hail.


According to NOAA, tornadoes are not the top damage-producer. In fact, they aren’t even listed separately in the summary stats!

The distribution of damage from U.S. Billion-dollar disaster events from 1980 to 2017 (as of January 8, 2018) is dominated by tropical cyclone losses. Tropical cyclones have caused the most damage ($850.5 billion, CPI-adjusted) and also have the highest average event cost ($22.4 billion per event, CPI-adjusted). This total now includes the initial cost estimates for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, which are continually being assessed and may increase further in cost. Drought ($236.6 billion, CPI-adjusted), severe storms ($206.1 billion, CPI-adjusted) and inland flooding ($119.9 billion, CPI-adjusted) have also caused considerable damage based on the list of billion-dollar events. Severe storms have caused the highest number of billion-dollar disaster events (91), while the average event cost is the lowest ($2.3 billion, CPI-adjusted).

Hail produces far more economic damage in most years than tornadoes. Insurance industry numbers indicate that in 2013, 2014 and 2015, more than 2.1 million claims were paid for hail damage. The economic loss from value of those claims averages $1 billion a year. The Insurance Information Institute reports damage in 2016 was over $3.5 billion!

The largest hailstone recorded so far fell July 23, 2010, in Vivian, SD. It was the size of a dinner plate, measuring 8 inches in diameter and weighing 1.94 pounds. The record before that was a hailstone which fell in Aurora, NE, on June 22, 2003, and measured 7 inches in diameter and weighed 1.67 pounds. Here’s a video of the Vivian, SD stone:

Hail safety tips, courtesy of the NWS:


I sometimes wish I had a nickel for every time someone claimed their house/farm/neighborhood had been hit by a tornado when the damage was obviously from straight line winds. It’s blatantly obvious from the air, but here’s how you tell from the ground:

Straight-line wind:

Notice how every branch and fallen section of tree is blown from left to right in the photo. That is a hallmark of straight-line wind. A special kind of straight-line wind damage that can be confused for tornado damage is from a downburst or microburst. In any one location damage is oriented in a single direction, but as you arrive at a different edge of the damage the limbs and so forth are oriented another direction. The mechanics of a downburst/microburst should make clear why:

When you see it, report it!

Beaufort Wind Scale, credit NWS Portland, OR

…And for the tornado junkies among us….

Have a great Wednesday!

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