Just say "Hail NO!" to Hail

I’m always searching for a topic. At a recent lodge-room discussion among several semi-famous writers (aided by the literary powers of Kentucky’s finest jet fuel), we agreed that finding a topic for a story is far more difficult than the mere act of putting words to paper. As I’ve often said, and “the boys” agreed, there is no terror like facing an empty computer screen shortly before a deadline.

That very problem was facing Your Famous Correspondent only two hours ago but then it started raining.

However, it wasn’t just rain or even a mere storm. The five minutes of foul weather our neighborhood experienced was the most awe-inspiring of my entire lifetime. In just seconds, visibility was reduced to less than ten yards as rain formed a solid horizontal sheet, the wind tore at everything in its path and hail came down like shovels full of crushed ice. It was truly an epic storm.

Looking on the bright side, at least I’ll probably get a new roof, new vinyl siding, a new tree and perhaps a new car after what was essentially an artillery barrage of ping-pong-ball-sized hail that stacked up six inches deep in places. I even pulled a double-handful out of our attic after repairing the blown-out gable vent.

Now that the excitement has died down, I began to wonder about hail and how it happens. I’ve seen a lot of hail and been caught out in it a few times while hunting and fishing but I didn’t really know too much about the process that creates this icy buckshot. Now, after some quick and highly-motivated research on the topic, I’ll share my findings.

Hail is ice that falls during a severe thunderstorm containing strong updrafts and is often associated with tornados. It is common to most areas of the U.S. though some areas are more prone than others. The central plains are located in “Hail Alley” which has one of the most frequent occurrences of large hail in the entire world. The entire country averages about $1 billion in hail damage per year, which accounts for about 40 percent of all insurance losses from every cause. Texas leads the nation in total yearly hail damage followed by Illinois, Colorado, Missouri and Nebraska rounding out the top five. Indiana is in the upper-middle of the pack.

Though the U.S. hasn’t had a hail fatality in several years, they do occur. Several hundred people are typically injured to varying degrees during an average year when caught without cover during a hail event.

Most folks are familiar with the theory that hailstones, which usually resemble the layers of an onion in cross-section, are carried by updrafts and repeatedly rise and fall through warm and cold layers in a thunderstorm. However, new research indicates this cherished old theory might not be correct.

Instead, scientists are finding that the layers are added as the hail stone is carried upward by winds through layers and pockets within the cloud that contain varying degrees of water vapor or droplets. Once the stone reaches a size where the updraft can no longer support the weight, it falls to the earth and continues to increase in size as it passes through the same layers. Along the way and depending on the severity of the storm, the ice pellets sometimes stick to each other and form irregular clumps that comprise the majority of large hail stones. This was the case in at our house yesterday as most hail was dime-sized but the ones that broke windows and siding were golf-ball or larger-sized lumps of ice.

Since hail is a common but fleeting phenomenon, the damage-producing storms are tough to predict. Our vehicle, which is normally parked inside the garage, was sitting outside and the storm came up so suddenly it was too late to move indoors by the time the hail was shredding everything in the yard.

This means you stand a good chance of experience a hailstorm while outdoors, especially if you tend to ignore the signs of impending doom. Those times we’ve been caught flat-footed by hail were simply because we ignored rapidly-threatening skies to make “one more cast” or pick one more raspberry bush before heading to cover.

During one storm we barely made it to the boat ramp and inside our vehicle as the hail began to hit while another time we found shelter under a nearby road bridge as millions of ice balls created small explosions in the creek. I’m not sure how things would have ended up if we had to face the onslaught with nothing between our tender scalp and terminal-velocity ice but a baseball cap.

You don’t want to be in a similar situation. Therefore, this will be the only time we advise to just say “hail no” and get indoors!