May saw an unusually fierce storm hit the Denver area, bringing with it hailstones as large as baseballs which did over $1.4 billion of damage to the city, creating one of Colorado’s most expensive disasters. The hail damaged homes, knocked down power lines, and smashed through windshields. Hail storms such as these are rare occurrences, but new research suggests that extreme hailstorms may become more common if climate change continues to get worse.
A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that in the second half of the 21st century, North America may receive less hail overall, but larger, more extreme hailstorms (up to 1.6 inches) might become more common.
Just about every car in this #Golden office parking lot has #Hail damage. #CoWx pic.twitter.com/d5YZPbD1Nj
— Jaclyn Allen (@jaclynreporting) May 8, 2017
Hail forms when rapid moving air currents throw water droplets up into the sky, where they freeze. The more water freezes around them, the larger the hailstone. While it is hard to predict such small-scale events, the researchers responsible for the study used various models to predict how global climate change would impact hail formation over Northern America between 2041 and 2070, assuming the globe keeps warming.
The models predicted that while hail storms in the summer and spring may decrease in frequency, the intensity of the storms may increase. Storms with large hail – 0.4 to 1.6 inches – could become more common, especially in the northern and central plains of Colorado, South Dakota and Nebraska. Some areas could see an increase in hail even larger than 1.6 inches, according to the study.
John Allen, assistant professor of meteorology at Central Michigan University, writes that the results of the study provide “an important and much-needed insight” into the impacts of climate change on hailstorms. However, Allen is careful to note that models are never perfect, so these models should not be taken as the final word on the subject. Allen concludes that the results do suggest “a pressing need for future research”.