Insurers Report Rising Hail Damage Claims

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Inflation is driving up the cost of materials and labor to repair roofs and cars. Adding to insurers’ costs is increased development in areas affected by severe storms.

Golf balls, tennis balls, softballs. All sound like the stuff of fun games — except when they are used to describe the size of the hailstones that often accompany severe thunderstorms.

Those hailstones can cause significant damage to homes and cars, a growing worry as warming temperatures fuel more destructive storms. This month, baseball-size hail, sometimes called “gorilla hail” because of its heft, was reported in Kansas and Missouri.

The insurance industry reported $60 billion in losses from “severe convective storms” — a catchall name for thunderstorms that may spawn hail, heavy rain, lightning, high winds and tornadoes — last year, said Mark Friedlander, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute, a trade group. In 2022, the industry reported $31 billion in losses.

Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center show 5,879 reports of hailstones of one inch or larger in 2022, up 17 percent from 5,020 in 2021. Preliminary data for 2023 show 6,962 reports, including a significant increase in reports of very large hailstones of two inches or more.

A weather expert countered that it was unclear whether severe hail had significantly increased in the United States over the long term. Harold Brooks, senior research scientist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory, which is also part of NOAA, said the storm prediction center’s hail data should be viewed with caution.

Reports, for instance, can be submitted by volunteer spotters whose training may vary. (Typically, people reporting hail are asked to compare it to the size of a ball or coin, which is then translated into a measurement in inches.) Also, the criteria for severe hail was changed in 2010, making historical comparisons challenging.

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