Texas has had 36 $100 million disasters from severe thunderstorms in the past 25 years. Only five of the disasters were tornadoes. Twenty-nine were from something that oftentimes isn’t taken as seriously: hail. And Texans may see another expensive hailstorm Wednesday.
“The environment for Wednesday afternoon is favorable for very large hail,” the National Weather Service in Dallas-Fort Worth tweeted. Meteorologists are eyeing cold temperatures aloft and lots of lifting energy to grow hail.
Storms could fire up late Wednesday afternoon or early evening in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Models suggest one cluster east of the city could merge into a broken line of severe thunderstorms that will drift northeast along Interstate 30 into southeast Oklahoma and southwest Arkansas.
While models are only a crude guide to where storms will develop, Dallas has a chance to see large hail, perhaps reaching baseball size in isolated spots. The odds of hail increase some in its northern suburbs. Damaging winds and an isolated tornado threat also can’t be ruled out.
The Austin-to-San Antonio corridor along Interstate 35 could see storms around midnight, with a risk for strong winds and a secondary threat of large hail.
“We want people to plan for today’s storms,” said Patricia Sanchez, a meteorologist at the Weather Service office serving Dallas-Fort Worth. “We don’t want people in a car if a hailstorm hits. Plan your day ahead, and do your errands in the morning or early afternoon.” She anticipates a rough commute if storms threaten Wednesday evening.
When we think of destructive, severe thunderstorms, twisters normally come to mind. But most tornadoes are 330 feet wide or less. Compared with hailstorms, their damage paths — often the width of a football field or less — are relatively narrow. Hail, on the other hand, can cover a lot more real estate. And when the clouds are hurling half-pound chunks of ice at you, it can have a pretty nasty impact.
Take April 12, 2016, for instance. A severe thunderstorm in San Antonio produced “giant hail” up to 4.5 inches across. Some 136,000 vehicles sustained damage, and many of them were totaled. Losses tallied $2 billion. The day before, the town of Wylie, Tex., northeast of Dallas, was bombarded by hail up to 5.25 inches across, a record for the area.
Denton — a suburb of Dallas about 45 minutes to the north — was hit by a $500 million hailstorm April 3, 2014. Nine weeks later, “hail the size of DVDs” pelted Abilene, racking up a $400 million price tag. Lubbock got its share of softball-size hail in March 2009 to the tune of $200 million.
The top 10 costliest Texas hailstorms (before adjusting for inflation) — all occurring since 1995 — have done more economic damage than the 500 most expensive Texas tornadoes.
It’s easy to forget how costly hail can be. But if you’ve ever had a shopping cart ding your car door — only to be presented with an $800 bill — it doesn’t take much imagination to understand how those pockmarks add up fast. A single springtime storm can total tens of thousands of cars and never trigger a tornado warning.
As cities boom and targets expand, ultra-costly hailstorms will continue to become the new norm.
“These expensive hail disasters have been becoming much more common in the past 10 to 20 years,” Sanchez said. “We’ve had a lot of construction and a lot of population growth. There is a lot more property susceptible to damage.”