You know the sound—the constant tapping of hail on your window during severe thunderstorms, and of course a not-so-cool reminder from Mother Nature that your day can be messed up in a twinkle of an eye. And yeah, this time it’s not the usual flock of birds hitting your way, but rather a fierce hailstorm pummelling your area.
So the next time it happens, here are 9 hard hitting facts to know about these ferocious moving ice balls.
1. Severe Hail Events Surpass Tornadoes 5 To 1
Despite the fact that we often focus on cyclones during summer and springtime, hail is greater but a more underrated threat. The overall number of cyclones recorded every year is just a small fraction of the number of highly dangerous hailstorm events recorded across the Australia and the world at large. The United States receives an average of 5000+ reports of huge hail every year, compared with just about 1000 tornadoes reported each year.
2. Hail Is Created During A Thunderstorm
It all starts with a tiny drop of supercooled water or simply water at below-freezing temperatures. But instead of the water droplet condensing and dropping to the ground as rain, the droplet freezes into a condensation nucleus such as dirt or dust hit into a storm.
3. Within A Storm, Hail Moves Like Lottery Balls In A Tumbler
Generally, newly formed hail is too light to drop to the ground, hence it remains suspended by its updraft within the thunderstorm, and is usually the fast-moving upward wind that provides a storm with the unstable air required to withstand any force. Hailstones travel through a thunderstorm like lottery balls mixing inside a tumbler, bouncing up and down in wind and accumulating water on their surface. The hail then grows as it accumulates water around its surface, eventually freezing—a process that creates ice in layers like those of onions.
4. When It Becomes Weighty, It Drops
Hailstones plummet to the Earth when it becomes too heavy for the updraft to continue keeping it hanging in the air. This is the reason why supercells, the most intense thunderstorms can generate hailstones the size of softballs or bigger. Ultimately, it takes a strong wind to keep a heavy ice ball suspended in the air.
5. Most Hailstones Are Tiny
While we often hear of mammoth hailstones raining down in areas like Kansas and Oklahoma, most of the hail that falls across the globe is tiny. According to the National Weather Service, hail is considered “severe” when it measures 1 inch in diameter, a size big enough to cause damage to people and their property. When hailstones grow beyond this size, it makes these ice lumps extremely dangerous given that hail can reach speeds of up to 100mph or 160kph.
6. When Hail Is As Large As A Golf Ball, Take Cover
Baseball-sized hail measures about 2.75 inches in diameter, large enough to dig a divot on the earth’s surface while sounding like fireworks when it hits the ground. When the hail increases to the size of a grapefruit (about 4 inches) or the size of a softball (4.5 inches), you should probably dash underground until the storm is over. Thankfully, this monster hail is rare. Apparently, grapefruit-sized or bigger hail only accounts for a mere 0.5 per cent of all hailstones recorded over the last 60 years.
7. Vehicle Damage Is The Biggest Threat
It’s obvious that you’ll be hurt if ice moving at high speeds hits you. Death and serious injuries related to hail are nowadays rare, majorly because of the weather radar and advanced prior warning capabilities. However, vehicle damage has been reported as the worst hazard caused by hailstorms. Bigger hailstones easily shatter windows of and leave many large dents on vehicles. Extreme hailstorm events can completely damage a vehicle.
8. And Be Warned….Taking Cover Inside Your Car Beneath An Overpass Is Such a Bad Idea
When driving through a hailstorm, some people are fond of sheltering under a bridge, but that’s really a bad idea unless that’s the only option. Besides causing a fatal traffic jam, sheltering beneath an overpass or bridge endangers your safety. The best thing to do under these circumstances would be to pull off to a safer place and enter a solid building until the storm passes.
9. Do Not Assume You’re Safe With The Mere Fact Of Being Inside
Every dangerous thunderstorm warning demands that you keep away from windows and doors. Hail moving at high speeds can shatter windows and even break through roofs and walls. Smashed windows are a common threat—and even after it’s broken, huge hail can still be blown through the opening and injure those inside.