Scientists weigh in on Nebraska's unusual hail storms and whether they are the new norm | Nebraska News |

2022-06-27 03:09:55 By : Ms. Alice wong

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OMAHA — Nebraskans have watched this year as severe weather has tracked across the state in waves since May, devastating some areas multiple times.

In Kearney, Realtor Patrick Slack can only shake his head at the damage.

A commercial building was so badly pummeled by hail that the loss was larger than the sale price, Slack said. The roof of a Kearney home was totaled by hail, replaced and totaled by a second hail storm, all within 10 days, Slack said.

"We've had baseball-sized hail, we've had tennis ball-sized. We've had pea-sized hail that was so hard and rigid that, with 70 mph winds, it caused damage you wouldn't expect," said Slack, broker-owner of Century 21 Midlands. "Going back the last three years, it seems like these storms are becoming more common."

Kearney County Emergency Management Director Craig Kupkes echoed those comments.

“We’ve been hit pretty hard the last couple of years,” he said. “We can never just catch rain. All it is is severe weather. When it comes through, it destroys everything.”

Farm fields have been leveled, homes have been battered and windows blown out as a series of wind and hail storms moved through.

Like the other weather disasters the state has been experiencing — including explosive wildfires and flooding rains — damaging hail storms are on the increase in Nebraska and are expected to worsen with climate change, scientists say.

Hail from a storm in June damaged the side of a house near 40th and Valley streets in Omaha. Experts say climate changes could be contributing to more storms packing large hail.

This year's continuous outbreaks of hail are the result of storms riding into Nebraska along the edge of the heat dome that has been suffocating vast swaths of the country this spring and summer. Meteorologists often describe these storms as a "ring of fire" because they follow along the periphery of the mass of hot air.

By several measures, this has been a rough year.

Gannon Rush, a climatologist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said this has been the second worst June for hail out of the last 10 years. The worst was 2014, when baseball-sized hail driven by 90-mph winds tore through communities north and west of Omaha.

Taking a look beyond hail, Rush said the state has been running well-ahead of average for thunderstorms in June.

During the first three weeks of the month, the National Weather Service issued 316 severe storm warnings, about a third more than average over a 20-year period.

So far, five counties have declared local disasters, said Erv Portis, assistant director of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency. Those counties are: Kearney, Cass, Seward, York and Gage.

Because of the way federal rules are written and because the damage is largely private and insured, Nebraska won't qualify for a federal disaster declaration, he said.

American Family Insurance, a major insurer in Nebraska, has received 6,200 claims for wind and hail damage this year, with about 4,000 of those claims coming in June, said spokesman Ken Muth.

The company assigned catastrophe status to Nebraska this year, which means it has brought in outside help to process claims, Muth said.

By way of comparison, some years the company receives virtually no claims and in other years, it can receive 10,000 claims, he said.

To speed the claims process for vehicles this year, American Family set up drive-through inspection sites in several communities, including at an Omaha Menards.

Softball-sized hail hit Gage County on June 11.

While storm damage does affect insurance rates, no single year does, Muth said. Instead, the company bases rates on a 20- to 30-year average. The recent sharp increases in insurance rates are due to the rising cost of building materials, car parts, replacement cars and labor, he said.

It's likely this year's storms have caused tens of millions of dollars in damage in Nebraska. While no statewide damage estimates are available, in Buffalo County alone, hail likely caused $32 million in damage, according to County Emergency Management Director Darrin Lewis.

The two Buffalo County towns of Ravenna and Shelton, with a combined population of about 2,700, saw 90% to 100% of their homes significantly damaged, he said.

Nebraska can get hail any month of the year, but most hail storms occur from May through July, with June the peak month, according to the weather service.

This year's outbreak of hail storms started in late May, with the worst damage concentrated over an 11-day period in early June.

On seven of those 11 days, significant hail storms occurred somewhere in the state, from the Panhandle to Omaha, according to the U.S. Storm Prediction Center.

"A heck of a couple of weeks," is how National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Moritz described it. He and others point to the night of June 14 as the worst, when a succession of supercell thunderstorms swept across southern and central Nebraska, dropping hail.

"If you saw one hail storm, you saw two, you saw three," he said.

The storms left about a 90-mile-long, 6-mile-wide damage path, he said, roughly from Lexington east to Seward. Along the way, Hastings, Kenesaw, Henderson, Giltner, York, Waco and Utica were among the communities most affected. Making the damage worse was the strength of the winds. In some areas, winds reached 70 mph to more than 100 mph, he said.

Among the largest known hail stones to fall with this year’s storms was one that measured 6-inches-wide, said National Weather Service meteorologist Shawn Jacobs. It fell near the Calamus Reservoir, in north central Nebraska. While that's not a record for the state, it's among the largest. (The record is 7-inches-wide at Aurora in 2003.)

In terms of ag, the good news is the hail fell early enough that some corn is recovering, said Al Dutcher, Nebraska's associate state climatologist. But damage to crops could invite disease and reduce yields, some irrigation equipment is inoperable for the season, expenses are mounting as some farmers replant, and some producers worry whether they'll be able to meet contractual obligations for their harvest, he said. As a result, some University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension personnel say they are concerned about the mental health impacts on farmers.

Harold Brooks, a senior scientist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory, said research shows that climate change is expected to bring an increase in large hail at the same time that smaller hail occurs less frequently. The reason has to do with how a warmer atmosphere affects hail.

The added warmth and moisture that climate change is injecting into the atmosphere is feeding more energy into storms, he said. As a result, storms have more powerful updrafts which are the key to keeping hailstones aloft long enough to become large. That's why large hail is expected to become more common, he said.

When severe storms moved through York in June, wind-blown hail formed into drifts.

Based on research in China, where there is a longer record of hail data, and Europe, the occurrence of small hail is declining, Brooks said. This appears to be because the atmosphere near the ground is warming, while the level at which hail freezes is shifting higher. As a result, small stones have more time to melt away before they reach the earth.

Part of this also has to do with the fact that small hail falls more slowly than large hail. Hail that is about an inch in diameter falls to the earth at 15 to 20 mph, while baseball-sized hail falls about 100 mph (the speed of a fastball), he said.

Western Nebraska is in that part of the U.S. that has seen an increase in large hail over about the last 20 years, Brooks said. Farther east toward Omaha, the data is not as clear, he said.

"Over the next decades, the hail threat will probably become larger," Brooks said.

A year like 2022 won't necessarily become typical, he said.

"There will still be lots of variability," he said. "This year has been unusual."

Slack said unrepaired storm damage to a home can complicate a sale, something he’s seeing more often. For this reason, he advises people to take their insurance — and repairs — seriously, rather than pocketing the cash from a claim.

“It’s a conversation nobody wants to have, but it’s imperative that you have it,” he said.

Members of a pride color guard perform their routine during the second-ever Star City Pride Parade at the Capitol on Saturday, June 18, 2022. KENNETH FERRIERA, Journal Star

Campers participate in drills during the Nebraska football camp on Friday, June 17, 2022, at Memorial Stadium. JAIDEN TRIPI, Journal Star

Jake Owen performs alongside his band during a performance at the Pinewood Bowl in Pioneers Park on Thursday, June 16, 2022. KENNETH FERRIERA, Journal Star

Nebraska freshman guard Callin Hake gets a high five from head women's basketball coach Amy Williams during practice on Thursday, June 15, 2022, at Hendricks Training Complex. GWYNETH ROBERTS, Journal Star

Former Husker Jordan Larson does a demonstration during a volleyball camp, Wednesday, June 15, 2022, at Kinetic Sports Complex. JUSTIN WAN, Journal Star

Trent Claus, a VFX supervisor and animation art collector, reminisces with some of his art on a couch for watching Saturday morning cartoons at the Eisentrager/Howard Gallery in Richards Hall on the UNL campus on Wednesday, June 15, 2022. KENNETH FERRIERA, Journal Star

Daniel Bartek lounges by the waters of Holmes Lake after a long day of work on Friday, June 10, 2022. KENNETH FERRIERA, Journal Star

Carpet Land’s Caden Cetak (left) slides for home as Judds Brothers’ Chase Blanchard tags him out during the annual Mike Peterson/Coach K Legion tournament championship game Sunday, June 11, 2022, at Den Hartog Field. JAIDEN TRIPI, Journal Star

New Kids on the Block perform Saturday, June 11, 2022, at Pinnacle Bank Arena. JAIDEN TRIPI, Journal Star

Nebraska offensive linemen Kevin Williams Jr (center) huddles up with campers before taking a break during a football camp held at the Lincoln Sports Foundation field on Saturday, June 11, 2022. KENNETH FERRIERA, Journal Star

Spectators watch as purebred pigs are showcased Saturday, June 11, 2022, at the Cornhusker Classic Swine Show at Saunders County Fairgrounds in Wahoo. JAIDEN TRIPI, Journal Star

A bicyclist peddles uphill past a field of wildflowers on a section of the Mopac bike trail near Vine Street on Friday, June 10, 2022. KENNETH FERRIERA, Journal Star

Union Bank’s Reese Kortum pitches the ball against a Millard North batter during a Mike Peterson/Coach K Legion Tournament game on Friday, June 10, 2022, at Densmore Field. JAIDEN TRIPI, Journal Star

Anderson Ford's Braeden Sunken bats in the third inning of a Mike Peterson Tournament legion baseball game against Millard North on Friday, June 10, 2022, at Densmore Park. GWYNETH ROBERTS, Journal Star

The flyover bridge that will connect U.S. 77 to the South Beltway has steel beams laid the entire west to east distance on Wednesday, June 8, 2022. GWYNETH ROBERTS, Journal Star

Lincoln Salt Dogs left fielder Randy Norris dives but misses the catch after a long ball hit by Chicago Dog's Grant Kay ( not pictured) in the second inning at Haymarket Park on Wednesday, June 8, 2022. KENNETH FERRIERA, Journal Star

A rancher takes a load off while waiting for an auction during the annual Cattlemen’s Ball of Nebraska at the Cass County Fairgrounds on June 4 in Weeping Water. The annual fundraiser moves around the state, and is held in a new location each year.

North’s Kamden Dusatko (middle) and his teammates celebrate their win over South in the Shrine Bowl on June 4 at Ron and Carol Cope Stadium in Kearney.

Nebraska head football coach Scott Frost speaks with recruits to wrap up the Friday Night Lights camp at Memorial Stadium on Friday, June 3, 2022. JAIDEN TRIPI, Journal Star

Tire marks mar the surface of the parking lot of Kohls, at the corner of 84th and O street, in this aerial view on June 2. 

A memorial to victims of a crash that occurred May 29 is set up on O Street at the site of the crash on June 2.

A family-style seafood boil, tossed in butter and Cajun seasonings, is complimented by New Orleans-style beverages at Bourbon Street by Single Barrel, located in the Haymarket in Downtown, on June 1.

Lincoln Police Officer and CSI instigator Jason Hellmuth talks about using various lights to inspect crime scenes during Bridging the Gap on June 1. 

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Hail from a storm in June damaged the side of a house near 40th and Valley streets in Omaha. Experts say climate changes could be contributing to more storms packing large hail.

Softball-sized hail hit Gage County on June 11.

When severe storms moved through York in June, wind-blown hail formed into drifts.

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