Articles | Volume 5, issue 5
11 Aug 2005
11 Aug 2005

Characteristics of the 14 April 1999 Sydney hailstorm based on ground observations, weather radar, insurance data and emergency calls

S. S. Schuster, R. J. Blong, R. J. Leigh, and K. J. McAneney

Abstract. Hailstorms occur frequently in metropolitan Sydney, in the eastern Australian State of New South Wales, which is especially vulnerable due to its building exposure and geographical location. Hailstorms challenge disaster response agencies and pose a great risk for insurance companies. This study focuses on the Sydney hailstorm of 14 April 1999 – Australia's most expensive insured natural disaster, with supporting information from two other storms. Comparisons are drawn between observed hailstone sizes, radar-derived reflectivity and damage data in the form of insurance claims and emergency calls.

The "emergency response intensity" (defined by the number of emergency calls as a proportion of the total number of dwellings in a Census Collection District) is a useful new measure of the storm intensity or severity experienced. The area defined by a radar reflectivity ≥55 dBZ appears to be a good approximation of the damage swath on ground. A preferred area for hail damage is located to the left side of storm paths and corresponds well with larger hailstone sizes. Merging hail cells appear to cause a substantially higher emergency response intensity, which also corresponds well to maximum hailstone sizes. A damage threshold could be identified for hailstone sizes around 2.5 cm (1 cm), based on the emergency response intensity (insurance claims). Emergency response intensity and claims costs both correlate positively with hailstone sizes. Higher claim costs also occurred in areas that experienced higher emergency response intensities.