Hail is one of the most devastating natural threats. It’s made up of lumps of ice, known as hailstones, and hail typically forms during thunderstorms. A single hailstorm can do serious damage to property and people, with the largest stones and biggest storms even proving fatal in some cases.
If you live in or are visiting a hail-prone area, knowing how to prepare for hail and what to do in a hail storm could save your life, or at least prevent serious injuries. This hail safety guide will take a look at all you need to know, covering how to prepare for a hail storm and listing some essential hail storm safety tips.
Understanding Hail Emergencies
Before we look at hail safety tips, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what hail actually is and how it’s formed. The more you know about hailstorms, the better prepared you can be to deal with them.
In simple terms, hail is formed when the updraft of a thunderstorm lifts water droplets to high areas of the atmosphere, where the temperatures are very low. This causes the droplets to freeze into small balls, which then grow larger as they come into contact with more water vapor. Through this process, a minuscule ball can grow into a sizable stone of hail.
A lot of people mistake hail for sleet or interchange the two terms, but sleet is more of a mixture of rain and snow and usually falls during the colder times of the year, while hail only occurs during storms and may occur at various times of the year, even in the summertime.
How to Determine the Severity of a Hailstorm
Local weather alerts and warnings can help you be forewarned about oncoming hailstorms and their potential severity, but one of the easiest ways to tell how serious a hailstorm is is to consider the size of the stones themselves.
Very small stones, the size of peas or marbles, are not particularly severe. However, as the hailstones reach closer to an inch in diameter, they become more dangerous. In the worst cases, stones may be anywhere from two to five inches, or even larger.
Typical Hailstorm Damages
So, what are some hazards associated with hail storms? Well, if the stones are small, hail may not do much or any notable damage to property. However, with larger stones, there’s a risk of windows being smashed, cars and other vehicles being damaged, and even homes or other structures suffering dents, cracks, and holes.
What are the signs before hail?
- Dark and ominous clouds: Hailstorms are often associated with towering, dark clouds that can appear threatening. These clouds may have a greenish tint, indicating the presence of strong updrafts.
- Intense thunderstorm activity: Hail is typically formed within severe thunderstorms, so if you notice an increase in thunderstorm activity, including frequent lightning, heavy rain, and strong winds, it could be an indication that hail is possible.
- Cool and gusty winds: Prior to the arrival of hail, you may experience sudden changes in wind patterns. Cool and gusty winds are often observed, as hailstorms are associated with strong updrafts and downdrafts.
- Heavy rainfall: Hail often accompanies heavy rainfall, so if you notice a sudden increase in the intensity of rain, it could be a sign that hail is imminent.
- Hailstone warnings: In some cases, weather services may issue specific hailstone warnings. These warnings are typically issued when conditions are favorable for the formation of large hailstones. Pay attention to local weather forecasts and advisories for such warnings.
- Falling temperature: Hailstorms are commonly associated with a decrease in temperature. If you notice a sudden drop in temperature before or during a thunderstorm, it may indicate the potential for hail.
Video courtesy of NWS Memphis.
Preparing for Hail Emergencies
Now that we know what hail is and what damage it can do, let’s look at how to prepare for a storm to minimize your chances of injuries and costly damages.
Create an Emergency Kit That Includes Essentials
In the worst-case scenario, your vehicle might be damaged and unusable after a storm, or your property might be without power for a while, so it’s a good idea to have some emergency supplies at home, including food, bottled water, and first aid supplies.
Make a Plan With Family and Loved Ones
There’s always a chance that your family might be separated when a hailstorm strikes. Make sure that every member of the family knows what to do. Have a communications plan to keep in touch with each other and a safe meeting area or plan of action if you’re not together.
Know Your Insurance Policy and Coverage
Hail can do a lot of damage to your home, breaking windows, denting roofs, and so on. Having a good insurance policy should help to cover the costs, so you won’t have to worry about any serious financial burden once the storm has passed. Verify that your policy protects against hail.
During a Hailstorm
Next, let’s look at how to stay safe in a hail storm once it begins with some essential hailstorm safety tips and tricks.
How to Stay Safe Indoors and Outdoors
The best place to be when a hailstorm hits is indoors. If you’re inside, stay there until the storm is over. Stay away from any windows or openings, and head to an enclosed, low-level room if possible, like a basement.
If you’re outside, try to seek shelter as quickly as possible. Get into a vehicle or find a nearby building where you can take cover. If no buildings are nearby, try to find some other kind of shelter. You can hide under trees as a last resort, but this isn’t the safest option, as branches could fall off as the hail hits.
What to Do if Caught in a Hailstorm While Driving
If you’re driving during a hailstorm, try to pull over and get to a gas station or covered area as soon as you can. Avoid any flooded roads or lowland areas that may flood, and try to park in a way that your side and rear windows aren’t taking the full force of the stones.
Evacuation Procedures if Necessary
If you need to evacuate a building for some reason during a hailstorm, try to cover your head, ideally with a protective helmet or some other item that can act as a shield. Head to another form of shelter as quickly as possible and avoid spending any longer than necessary in the open.
After a Hailstorm
It’s important to remember that hail storm safety doesn’t just apply during the storm, but also after it. Even when the stones have stopped falling, there are still risks, like damaged structures, power outages, and floods.
Here’s what to do next.
Assessing Damages and Making a Claim
When it’s safe to do so, leave your property and take a look outside. Assess any damages to your vehicle and home, and call your insurance company to let them know what has happened. You can then proceed to make a claim and provide the necessary details.
Safety Precautions When Cleaning Up Debris and Repairing Damages
Be very careful when cleaning up or making repairs after a hailstorm. If you need to get up to the roof, for example, take extra care and consider calling professionals. While cleaning debris or cleaning around damaged structures, be attentive, as large stones may still fall from ledges and roofs.
Resources for Assistance and Recovery
After a storm, local community groups may come together to help one another clean up, and non-profit organizations may also be able to provide some assistance with repairs and recovery. Contact local authorities to ask for help.
Hail may not be the most common form of precipitation, but it’s easily one of the most dangerous. A single storm may only last for a matter of seconds but can leave a huge amount of destruction and devastation behind, especially when the stones are large, and there have been many cases of serious injuries to people caught in these storms.
That’s why it’s so important to be aware of hail safety and hail storm preparedness, making sure that you’re ready when storms are on the way and that you know what to do when they strike. Hopefully, this guide has given you the information and resources you need to make the safest and smartest choices during future hail events in your area.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hailstorm Safety
How long does a hailstorm last?
The duration of a hailstorm can vary widely depending on several factors, including the size and intensity of the storm, local atmospheric conditions, and the storm’s movement. In general, hailstorms tend to be relatively brief compared to other types of storms, but they can range from just a few minutes to over an hour.
Small, isolated hailstorms may last for only a few minutes, with hailstones falling for a short period before the storm weakens or moves away. These types of storms are typically localized and affect a small area.
On the other hand, larger and more severe hailstorms can last longer, especially if they are part of a larger system or a supercell thunderstorm. Supercell thunderstorms are long-lasting, rotating thunderstorms that can produce significant hail. They are often associated with severe weather events and can persist for several hours.
What season does it hail the most in the US?
Hailstorms can occur in the United States throughout the year, but the frequency and severity of hailstorms tend to vary by region and season. Generally, the peak season for hailstorms in the U.S. falls during the spring and summer months. The specific timing and intensity can vary from state to state and even within different regions of a state.
In the central and southern plains, including states like Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, the peak hail season typically occurs from late spring through early summer. This region is often referred to as “Hail Alley” due to its frequent hail activity.
In the Midwest and parts of the Great Plains, including states like Colorado, Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois, the primary hail season also falls during the spring and early summer months, generally from April to June.
In the northern and eastern regions of the U.S., including states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and New York, the peak hail season tends to occur during the summer months, from June to August.
Can hail mean a tornado?
While hail and tornadoes can occur during the same severe thunderstorm, hail itself does not necessarily indicate the presence of a tornado. Hail is formed when strong updrafts in thunderstorms carry raindrops upward into extremely cold areas of the atmosphere, causing them to freeze and form ice pellets. These ice pellets, known as hailstones, can grow in size as they are lifted and carried within the storm’s updrafts.
On the other hand, tornadoes are violent, rotating columns of air that extend from the base of a thunderstorm to the ground. Tornadoes are associated with intense wind circulation and a characteristic funnel cloud. While tornadoes can occur within severe thunderstorms, they are not directly caused by hail.
It is important to note, however, that both hail and tornadoes are often associated with severe thunderstorms. These storms can produce both phenomena due to the presence of strong updrafts and atmospheric instability. In some cases, large hailstones can indicate the presence of a severe thunderstorm with strong updrafts, which may also create an environment conducive to tornado formation. Therefore, the occurrence of hail can be an indicator of a severe thunderstorm, but it does not necessarily mean a tornado will form.
If you are in an area experiencing hail, it is important to stay informed about the weather conditions through local weather sources or emergency services, as severe thunderstorms that produce hail may also pose other risks, such as strong winds, heavy rain, or the potential for tornado development.