Ruinous for cars, homes and especially crops, hailstorms are the USA's most economically destructive hazard that comes from severe thunderstorms, usually even worse than tornadoes.
During the past few years alone, hail has led to an estimated $10 billion per year in economic damage costs, according to reinsurance company Aon Benfield.
Now, a new study finds these weather disasters could be predicted as much as three weeks in advance by checking wind patterns thousands of miles away.
Researchers found a strong relationship between jet-stream patterns over the Pacific Ocean and the frequency of hail in the U.S., study lead author Victor Gensini of Northern Illinois University said. “In simple terms, when the jet stream is really wavy, the likelihood of experiencing hail greatly increases.”
Jet streams are the rivers of fast-moving air located high in the atmosphere — above about 20,000 feet — that steer and guide storms.
The study looked back at nearly 40 years of data and found that a wavy jet stream over the Pacific was a good predictor of major hailstorms two to three weeks later in the U.S.
Gensini and co-author John Allen of Central Michigan University said these links were most pronounced during the spring and fall but less so in the summer.
The study has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed journal Geophysical Research Letters.
While the new method could help forecast hail activity for the nation overall, portions of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, Illinois and Indiana are most vulnerable to the phenomenon.
Such long-range forecasts could be useful for insurance companies and emergency managers and allow homeowners and businesses to prepare, meteorologist Steve Bowen of Aon Benfield said.
In the past three years, the major metro areas of Dallas, San Antonio, Denver and Minneapolis/St. Paul have all been struck by billion-dollar hail disasters, he added.
"We’ve seen major hail events happen before, and we’ll certainly see similar events happen again in the future. Hail swaths can also do real damage to crops, too," Bowen said.
The hail study continues similar research started by Gensini two years ago on long-range tornado predictions.
“There’s a high degree of correlation between environments that produce hail and tornadoes, but not all storms produce both hazards,” he said. “We’re starting to demonstrate more clearly a pathway to increase the lead time for severe weather forecasts, now with both hailstorms and tornadoes."
“We will be testing the relationships this spring when severe weather season ramps up,” Gensini added.
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New research finds a strong relationship between a wavy jet-stream pattern over the Pacific Ocean and severe U.S. hailstorms. (Photo: Victor Gensini, NIU)
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