Hail To The Chief (Meteorologist)

By: Don Ward
By: Don Ward

Hail storms that pile up like snow happen every once in a while around here. Do they happen anywhere else? Not really.

If you watched 11 news today, you heard Chief Meteorologist Brian Bledsoe talking about several days of hail problems near Lamar.  He said Saturday once again brought hail six inches deep along highway 287. 

That took me back 31 years, to the first time I saw that Colorado hail phenomenon.  It was during the summer 1978.  My family had just moved to Colorado Springs.  My parents were having a house built in Village 7, so for several weeks we were staying at the Apollo Park apartments on Circle, right near Airport.

One afternoon in August, the sky quickly filled up with those thick, dark, ominous storm clouds.  We were aware that a powerful thunderstorm was likely, that maybe a tornado was possible.  We didn't expect what happened next.  It was one of those relentless, pounding, frankly frightening Colorado hail storms. It hailed, hard, for maybe 15 or 20 minutes.  It wasn't the extreme, property-damaging golf ball to tennis ball sized stuff.  The stones were probably only pea sized on average.  But there was so much of it.

We watched the storm from a covered walkway at the apartment complex.  The sky was so full of falling hail that visibility was down to almost nothing.  We could hear it tearing the leaves right of the trees.  It accumulated on the ground like snow.  Very quickly, it was three to six inches deep, hail mixed with water running like a half-frozen river down Circle Drive.  There was so much of it that it took maybe 40 minutes or so to melt down and flow away.

It was one of the strangest things I'd ever seen!  I'd only just turned 13, so I hadn't had all that much time to see too many strange things, but this was near the top of the list.  Since then I've seen it happen many times, like we all have.  It seems we have a hail pile like that somewhere in Southern Colorado two or three times every summer.

As a reporter I've chased weather stories in Texas, Oklahoma, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.  Only in Colorado have I seen the "hail flooding."  So tonight I asked Brian about it. It's kind of nice to have a weather expert in the office!

He says it really is unique to the front range.  Because of our elevation, the air can cool down much quicker than most areas. Hail stones can form faster, and get bigger quicker. That means they have the size and temperature to last long enough to make it to the ground. They also last longer once they hit.  So while other areas certainly get hail, it's our area that gets the most frequent hail flood phenomenon.  In fact, he told me that a chunk of territory from Southern Wyoming, down through the front range area is second only to a spot in Tibet for the amount of hail that falls.  (I'll ask Brian to write about it in more detail in his weather blog http://www.kktv.com/blogs/talkweather, so check it in the next few days.)

So maybe you'll have visitors from out-of-state this summer for one of our huge hail downpours, with the flooding that follows.  It's routine for most of us, but it'll be something they'll remember for decades, like I did.  Maybe you can let them park their car in the garage!

We'll talk again soon.






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