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By Tawny Clary

Hail. It is described by the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) as “a form of precipitation that occurs when updrafts in thunderstorms carry raindrops upward into extremely cold areas of the atmosphere where they freeze into balls of ice.”

But what is it really?

For Colorado, it is fear of damage costs, skepticism toward strangers doing honorable work and renewed education on how to better prepare for the next storm.

For the City of Wheat Ridge this year, it is 3,360 inspections completed in the first nine weeks since the city’s largest hailstorm on record. It is six additional inspectors with 814 billable hours from the same time frame. It is 2,256 online roofing permit and inspection applications submitted in a month. (City Treasurer Jerry DiTullio shares all of this information from the bi-weekly permit report on his page, jerryditullio.com.)

Colorado’s May 8 hailstorm takes the cake in the top 10 most costly hailstorms in Colorado with a current estimated total of $1.4 billion, according to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association (RMIIA). The RMIIA explains, “Colorado’s Front Range is located in the heart of ‘Hail Alley,’ which receives the highest frequency of large hail in North America and most of the world.” Years of this kind of weather would lead us to believe we would be armed and ready for these catastrophic storms. Yet the monumental effect of hail never ceases to catch us off guard.

In less than a half hour, a short-lived, but forceful army of falling hail means businesses close due to extensive and expensive damage; employees find they have no jobs to go to the next day; residential roofs sit partially finished for days due to miscommunications and backup in available manpower.

For the city and its people, a piece of hail turns into long lines with deadlines getting pushed back, frustrations and loss of patience. It turns into unanticipated revenue costs of $968, 708.26 in just two short months since the storm, per the city treasurer.

It doesn’t stop there. Each piece of hail has another purpose wrapped up inside it. It becomes neighbors helping neighbors. It becomes more job opportunities and purpose for contractors, glass and auto repair companies, rental car companies and insurance. It becomes a facelift for neighborhoods whose property values go up with every new roof and each can of new paint followed by revived landscape and updated materials. Entire industries are there for residents and business owners in the recovery from the disruption that a little ball of ice can cause.

Help comes from unexpected places. Even U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) perked up to help businesses struggling from the aftermath of the storm. By early July, the SBA announced the availability of low-interest federal disaster loans in Jefferson County for “small businesses and individuals with uninsured losses to a residence or business.”

Finally, the months after a hailstorm are a true testament to how effectively a city functions and to the character of its community. It brings to life the reality of expectations. On June 2, Mayor Joyce Jay reported on her Facebook page that the normal amount of roof building permits issued were “15-20 per day” and that number “has gone up close to 100 [per day], right at a time when we are down to one trained permit technician!” This led to a backup of application processing time. The city reported each altered wait time, as the chance to obtain a roofing permit went from waiting in lines at the processing office to online submissions only, to a wait time of three to five days for processing and finally extended to five to eight days for processing. Miscommunications happened between roofers and inspectors, residents and the city. However, the city put in all its efforts to resolve blunders and controversies. When residents spoke up, the city moved as quickly as they were able to adhere to requests and complaints of its people.

While Wheat Ridge was not the only city with a surge of roofs and properties needing repair, the city was hit the hardest by the largest, most damaging hail in the metro area. According to stormersite.com, the 80033 ZIP code (which included Lutheran Medical Center) incurred the bulk of the storm. Even with its own large costs of repair to take care of, Lutheran Hospital came together as a community to help raise funds for its low-income employees who incurred vehicle damage from the storm.

By the end of May, The Insurance Journal estimated there would be “150,000 auto insurance claims and 50,000 homeowners claims” filed as a result of the May 8 storm. Of course, it will be difficult to know the real impact of the storm for months or even years. The only impact we will see until then is our own.

Though we never seem to be prepared enough for the outcome of a hailstorm, we learn a little each time about human compassion and the ability to evolve from such disasters.

People are much like hail in the storm after the storm. NSSL explains, “hailstones bump into other raindrops and other hailstones inside the thunderstorm, and this bumping slows down their fall.” When we look at our own communities, do we slow each other down from the fall or do we slow each other down from progress on our destined journey?

So, what is hail? It is a mirror of the human spirit. While human beings can’t move as fast as a tablet or smart-phone, calculate precise completion time nor meet work expectations flawlessly day after day, we still persevere with the hope that the sun will rise again and that our collaborative diligence will gradually melt away yesterday’s damage one day at a time.