Everything You Need To Know About Hail Storms | Weather.com (2024)

Thunderstorm Safety and Preparedness

October 10, 2023

Everything You Need To Know About Hail Storms | Weather.com (1)

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In 1981, massive thunderstorms brought 100 mph winds, tornadoes, flash floods and grapefruit-sized hailstones of more than 4.5 inches in diameter to Texas and the surrounding region, including Oklahoma, Kansas and Alabama.

20 people died. The total estimated damage was estimated to cost $1.2 billion.

This is not the first time that storms with hail have been deadly. In fact, history is full of accounts of deadly hailstorms. For example, in 1360 on “Black Monday,” a hail storm killed around 1,000 English soldiers in Chartres, France — a frightening development in the Hundred Year’s War between the two countries. In 1888, a bad hail storm with orange-sized hail in Moradabad, India killed 246 people.

Everything You Need To Know About Hail Storms | Weather.com (2)

It’s important to know about hailstorms so you can avoid injury and stay safe during one.

Here are some facts about them:

1. Hail is a form of precipitation — like rain or snow — that is made up of solid ice.

Everything You Need To Know About Hail Storms | Weather.com (3)

2. It is not the same thing as frozen rain.

Frozen rain falls as water but freezes as it gets near the ground.

Hail falls as a solid, known as hailstone.

3. Hailstones are formed when rain droplets are carried upwards by a current of air, called an updraft, during thunderstorms.

“Hail forms as robust thunderstorms grow taller and taller, lofting moisture up into the atmosphere where it freezes,” explains Jonathan Belles, digital meteorologist at Weather.com.

4. "The stronger the thunderstorm, the larger the hail can get," says Belles.

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That's because hailstones grow in size as the frozen moisture droplets collide with surrounding water vapor, causing that water to freeze on the hailstone’s surface in layers.

A frozen droplet will start to fall back towards earth from a storm cloud, then be pushed back up into the cloud by an updraft, hitting rain droplets — which freeze on its surface — as it moves.

Winds inside a thunderstorm aren’t just up and down, though, especially in severe storms. There are horizontal winds, such as rotating updrafts in supercell thunderstorms, which can move the hailstone too and affect how it grows. Eventually, the hail does fall to the ground. This happens, Belles explains, "when updrafts can no longer support the weight of the hailstones."

5. Hailstones can be clear or cloudy.

It all depends on how the hailstone forms: If the hailstone collides with water droplets and they freeze instantaneously, cloudy ice will form because air bubbles will be trapped inside it.

If the water freezes more slowly, air bubbles will be able to escape and the ice will be clearer.

They can also have layers of clear and cloudy ice as the hailstone experiences different conditions in the thunderstorm.

6. Hail size is often estimated by comparing it to a known object.

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For example, hail that is ¼ inch in diameter is referred to as pea-size, hail that is 1-inch in diameter is called a quarter-size, and hail that is 4 inches in diameter is softball-size.

“Most hailstones are small, generally pea size,” says Belles. “The National Weather Service considers hail dangerous to life and property when the stones reach about the size of quarters. We typically see hail up to softball size several times a year.”

It’s worth noting, however, that most hailstorms are made up of a mix of different sizes.

7. The largest hailstone ever recovered in the United States was 8 inches in diameter and had a circumference of 18.62 inches.

According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL), it weighed 1lb. 15 oz. and it fell in Vivian, South Dakota.

8. The speed that hail falls depends on a lot of things.

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The speed depends on the size of the hailstone, the friction between the hailstone and surrounding air, the local wind conditions and whether or not the hailstone starts to melt.

According to NSSL, small hailstones under an inch usually fall at speeds between 9 and 25mph, whereas hailstones of an inch to 1.75-inches in diameter typically fall faster — between 25-40mph. The strongest supercells, which can produce hail between 2 and 4 inches in diameter, can cause hail to fall at speeds of 44-72mph.

9. Hail storms can happen all year long.


“Hail can form at any time of the year as long as the thunderstorms are strong enough,” explains Belles. “While the biggest hail is often associated with severe thunderstorms in the Plains and Southeast from February to June or July, hail is also common in the cooler season along the West Coast as storm systems take advantage of the winter cold air.”

10. Some regions do get more hailstorms than others — and it’s not necessarily the regions that get the most thunderstorms.

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Florida is a very thunderstorm-prone state, but it’s not actually the place where hail storms are most common.

“Hail is most likely from the Dakotas to Texas during the course of the year,” explains Belles. “This is the location where the strongest thunderstorms overlap with cold air aloft and fast winds in the jet stream.”

The area where Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming meet is known as “hail alley” and it averages seven to nine hail days per year, according to NSSL. Colorado experiences the greatest damage from hail storms, followed by Texas, Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Abroad, China, Russia, India and northern Italy get frequent hail storms too.

11. Hail falls in paths called “hail swaths.”

These can be seen from the airplanes and they occur as thunderstorms move while the hail falls.

According to NSSL, hail swaths can range in size from just a few acres to an area 10 miles wide and 100 miles long.

12. Hail storms can cause significant damage.

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Hailstones can cause a lot of damage to buildings, vehicles, crops and livestock.

In fact, hail causes approximately $1 billion in property and crop damage every year in the United States. One of the costliest hail storms in the country hit Denver, Colorado in July 1990 and caused $625 million in damage. A 2016 study by the Highway Loss Data Institute found that insurance companies paid $5.37 billion in total hail claims to automotive policy holders.

While quarter-size hail will cause damage to shingles, golf ball-size hail can cause dents on cars and baseball-sized hail can smash windshields. Softball sized hail, meanwhile, can cause holes in roofs.

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While reported human deaths from being struck by hail are somewhat rare in North America, they do happen. In 2000 a man in Fort Worth, Texas was killed when he was struck by softball-sized hailstone.

Hail storms can also cause severe injuries. On average, an estimated 24 people are injured by large hail each year, but sometimes, there can be a lot of injuries from one storm. For example, a May 1995 hailstorm in Texas injured 400 people when they were caught outside during Mayfest with very little shelter available; 60 of those injured required hospitalization.

Even hail storms that produce a lot of small hail can be dangerous because all those hailstones can completely cover roads. If these hail piles are deep enough, they can prevent car tires from touching the road at all. This makes driving conditions similar to icy winters.

13. It’s tough to forecast when a hailstorm might occur in advance.

Everything You Need To Know About Hail Storms | Weather.com (10)

“We usually have a few days heads up that conditions might be ripe for hail, but we don't know that any community will have hail until an hour or so before it occurs,” says Belles.

14. The best way to protect yourself from a hailstorm is to be prepared, especially if you live in a hail-prone region.

“We all should have our storm kits well-stocked throughout the year,” says Belles, and those storm kits should include helmets. “[They] can help you save your head from both the hail itself and the debris that can also come with severe thunderstorms.”

It’s also a good idea to make a disaster preparedness plan for your family so that you all know where to go for safety and how to contact each other after an emergency.

If severe weather occurs, such as a bad thunderstorm, tune in to the radio or another news source to make sure you stay up to date of any immediate threats to your family or property.

15. If you get caught outside in a hail storm, seek shelter indoors.

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Make sure you stay inside until the hail stops and stay away from skylights and windows. Close the drapes or curtains if you have them to keep broken glass and hailstones out of your home. It’s also best to seek shelter at least one level down from the roof.

If you’re driving, pull over as soon as possible, preferably by near a place with shelter, like a garage or under a gas station awning. Make sure you’re completely off of the highway.

“If you’re caught in a hail storm in your car with no sturdy structures nearby, please stay in your car and cover yourself if possible,” Belles says. “While windows may break, the car should keep your head safe.”

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

Everything You Need To Know About Hail Storms | Weather.com (2024)


What are hailstorm answers? ›

Hailstorm is a severe weather phenomenon, which causes extensive damage to crops, property and livestock. It is a thunderstorm that produces ice as precipitation. Hailstorms can cause serious damage to aircraft, automobiles, glass-roofed structures, skylights, besides crops, property, people and livestock.

What are some interesting facts about hail storms? ›

8 Facts About Hail You Might Not Know
  • T​he biggest hail ever measured was nearly 15 years ago. ...
  • The National Weather Service uses various objects to describe hail sizes. ...
  • There is a "hail alley" ...
  • H​ail is rarely deadly in the U.S., but it causes injuries. ...
  • Supercell thunderstorms usually produce the largest hail.

What effects should someone expect from a hail storm? ›

Wind-driven hail can tear up siding on houses, break windows and blow into houses, break side windows on cars, and cause severe injury and/or death to people and animals.

How long does hail usually last? ›

They can range in size from 100,000 – 215,000 ft² to an area 10 miles wide and 100 miles long. Hailstorms usually last only a few minutes, but 15 to 30 minute durations have also been frequently observed.

How to survive a hail storm? ›

  1. Seek shelter immediately if you are outdoors. ...
  2. Stay out of culverts and lowland areas that might fill suddenly with water.
  3. Stop driving. ...
  4. If at all possible, pull into a sturdy garage or under a shelter to minimize hail damage.
  5. Do NOT leave your vehicle until it stops hailing.

What causes hail to fall? ›

Hail stones are a frozen form of precipitation that occurs when thunderstorm updrafts lift rain above the freezing level in the atmosphere. When hail stones become too heavy to be lifted by the updraft, they fall to the ground.

Can you walk in a hail storm? ›

Do not go outside for any reason. Large hail can cause serious, or even fatal injuries. Avoid using phones and electrical appliances during a severe storm to avoid the danger of electrocution from lightning.

How far can a thunderstorm throw hail? ›

Avoid all thunderstorms. Never go closer than 5 miles to any visible storm cloud with overhanging areas, and strongly consider increas- ing that distance to 20 miles or more. You can encounter hail and violent turbulence anywhere within 20 miles of very strong thunderstorms.

Can hail form in a tornado? ›

Hail is very commonly found very close to the tornadoes, as the strongest thunderstorms that spawn tornadoes are formed under the atmospheric conditions that are also highly likely to make hail. Every state is at some risk from this hazard.

Which of the following should you not do in a hail storm? ›

Avoid finding shelter under trees or in areas like culverts that can suddenly fill with water. Stay indoors and away from windows, glass doors and skylights. Close drapes or blinds to protect yourself from broken glass and flying debris. Keep pets indoors and provide shelter for farm animals.

What are 2 ill effects of a hailstorm? ›

Storms that produce hail which reaches the ground are known as hailstorms. They typically last for no more than 15 minutes but can cause injuries to people and damage buildings, vehicles and crops. When hail builds up it can cause a loss of power, bring down trees and cause flash floods and mudslides in steep areas.

Which state gets the most hail damage? ›

The four states that receive the most hail (according to research by Weather Fusion) are Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. Several areas in those states receive hail an inch in diameter or larger five times or more each year.

What month is hail most common? ›

Not surprisingly, 73% (616 out of 840) significant hail reports occurred in the spring and early summer months (March through June). However, these events have occurred in each month of the year. >

Can it be too hot for hail? ›

This is why it can still hail in the summertime – the air at ground level may be warm, but it can still be cold enough higher up in the sky. Hail during the summer is not out of the ordinary – just another thing you can let WeatherBug worry about for you.

What does hailstorm mean? ›

a storm that produces hail (= balls of ice that fall like rain) (Definition of hailstorm from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)

What is hailstones answer? ›

Hail is a form of frozen precipitation that falls as hailstones. These can look like pellets or balls. These hailstones form as water droplets are forced up high into the atmosphere by an updraft and freeze. Hailstone nuclei grow as more water freezes to them.

What is the short answer of hail? ›

A form of precipitation consisting of solid ice that forms inside thunderstorm updrafts is known as hail.

What is hailstorm explanation for kids? ›

Hail is water that gets caught in strong upward moving winds. The water will freeze, then start to fall, with more water attaching to the hailstone. This can get sent back up into the freezing air several times. Each time it goes up, a layer of ice is formed.


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