Eastern Colorado is one of the most active hail regions in the United States, and individual hailstorms routinely surpass millions of dollars in crop loss and physical damage. Fifteen semistructured interviews with eastern Colorado farmers and ranchers were conducted in the summer of 2019 to gauge perceptions of the severity and vulnerability associated with hailstorms, as well as to understand how forecasts and warnings for severe hail are received and acted upon by the agricultural community. Results reveal a correspondence between perceived and observed frequency of hailstorms in eastern Colorado and highlight financial losses from crop destruction as the greatest threat from hailstorms. In contrast to the National Weather Service defining severe hail as at least 1.0 in. (25.4 mm) in diameter, the agricultural community conceptualizes hail severity according to impacts and damage. Small hail in large volumes or driven by a strong wind are the most worrisome scenarios for farmers, because small hail can most easily strip crop heads and stalks. Larger hailstones are perceived to pose less of a threat to crops but can produce significant damage to physical equipment and injure livestock. Eastern Colorado farmers and ranchers are avid weather watchers and associate environmental cues with hailstorms in addition to receiving warning messages, primarily via alerts on mobile telephones. Hailstorms elicit feelings of dejection and anxiety in some respondents, whereas others accept hailstorms as part of the job. Increasing awareness of the agricultural perceptions of hailstorms can help the meteorological community direct hail prediction research efforts and improve risk communication to the agricultural sector.
Farmers and ranchers across eastern Colorado routinely face the impacts of hailstorms, and this study is the first to specifically gauge how these agriculturalists perceive vulnerability toward hailstorms, as well as how they receive and respond to warning messages. Although the current NWS threshold for severe hail is 25.4 mm, farmers and ranchers perceive smaller hail, either in large volume or driven by strong winds, as most detrimental to crops. Many farmers express anxiety or dejection toward hailstorms, because their pride in providing a quality product to consumers is damaged. Understanding farmers’ perspectives of hailstorms can help to forge stronger partnerships and improve risk communication between forecasters and the farming community and motivate further research into hailstorm predictability. The methods of this study can be applied to other hail-prone regions of the country to assess perceptions from farmers who live in different meteorological and agricultural environments.