Spring is prime season for hailstorms. According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL), a severe hailstorm can tear the siding off houses, break windows, damage cars, and car windows, and even severely injure people. Understanding what causes hail can help you monitor weather conditions, so you can take steps to protect your car, home, and garden from hail before the storm starts.
What Is Hail?
Here’s the simple answer: A hailstone is actually a ball of ice that falls from the sky. But of course, there’s more to it. Hail forms in clouds during thunderstorms when the updrafts (or upward-moving wind) from the storm carry water droplets into the coldest parts of the cloud, highest in the atmosphere, where they freeze. Hailstones grow when the frozen drops collide with liquid drops, which freeze to the surface of the hailstone. As the droplets get larger and heavier, gravity causes them to fall, resulting in hailstorms.
When a storm also includes high winds, the falling hailstones can be driven at an angle or even horizontally at high speeds, which makes their impact even more damaging and dangerous.
How Fast Does Hail Fall?
Meteorologists once assumed that hail fell at the same rate as frozen ice balls. According to NSSL, however, newer research demonstrates that hail actually falls more slowly than we previously assumed. The main factor affecting the speed of the fall is the size of the individual hailstones. The speeds in the chart below show very wide ranges because many other factors – wind speed, angle of fall, shape, and degree of melting — can affect the rate of the fall. Based on research, this is what happens when different sizes of hail fall:
||Speed of Fall
|Small (< 1 in.)
||Pea (1/4 in.) Quarter (1 in.)
||9 to 25 mph
|Average (1 in. to 1.75 in.)
||Ping-pong ball (1.5 in.)
||25 to 40 mph
|Large (2 in. to 4 in.)
||Tennis ball (2.5 in.) Softball (4 in.)
||44 to 72 mph
How to Protect Your Car From Hail (and Other Tips)
Hail is almost always connected with a thunderstorm system, though even the experts can’t always predict which thunderstorms will produce hail. Even so, the single most important thing you can do to protect your property from hail damage is to monitor the weather conditions. Keep an eye on the forecast and sign up for mobile weather alerts to stay on top of changing conditions.
In addition to relying on professional predictions, you can use an AcuRite personal weather station to help you stay up to date on what’s happening right in your own backyard. Professional storm spotters rely on AcuRite weather stations to collect all the data they need to track storms – a backyard weather station can help you spot storms headed your way.
Car Hail Protection Tips
- If you’re driving when it begins to hail, pull over, preferably into a covered area, such as a parking garage.
- Move your car undercover into a garage or carport.
- If you can’t get your car under cover, a car cover or hail blanket offers some protection.
- In an absolute pinch, cover your windshield with your car mats. They will at least protect your windshield from getting broken, allowing you to drive after the storm.
Home Hail Protection Tips
- Invest in hail-resistant roofing. Your roof is the part of your home most likely to be damaged by hail. Before storm season starts, have your roof checked and upgrade if necessary.
- Cover windows. Close any storm shutters to prevent broken glass.
- Secure lawn furniture and other outdoor items since strong winds usually accompany hail.
Garden Hail Protection Tips
- Before the storm starts, use stakes and tarps to improvise covers for spring vegetables and flowers.
- Mound extra soil around plant bases to help reinforce stems and prevent them from leaning or breaking.
- Immediately before the storm, cover prized plants with overturned buckets or pots, and weigh each bucket down with a heavy stone.
- To protect vines climbing on walls and fences, lean large cardboard pieces or wood against the fence to prove shelter.
- If you live in an area that’s prone to hail, consider investing in hail-proof netting.
Hailstorms can cause a lot of damage to your car, house and garden. If you keep an eye on the weather and have a few simple items ready to pull out in an emergency, you can keep the damage to a minimum. A little bit of preparation saves both time and money in repair costs after a storm.