You’re driving your car on the highway, when you see something in the sky. Minutes later, you find yourself in a violent storm. Hail the size of a softball, and weighing as much as half a kilo (1 lb), is falling from the sky. It’s big, and fast, it could shatters your windshield. If one of these mega hailstones hits your head, you could be dead.
Ok, so here’s how hail is formed. Small air currents sweep raindrops upwards, to where it’s extremely cold, and the raindrops freeze. When the frozen raindrops are heavy enough that the winds can’t carry them anymore, they start falling. On their way, they collide with raindrops that are in their path, and freeze together. So they keep growing. And by the time the hail reaches you, it could be the size of a grapefruit, or even a bowling ball.
Imagine that the sky is raining grapefruit-sized chunks of ice. Hail does not have to be the smooth, round ice stones that we expect. Some hail is jagged and sharp. If these huge projectiles start speeding toward you, what choices do you have?
How big can the hail get and what’s a hail swath? Will you be safe in your car? Why should you use social media?
STEP 1: STOP DRIVING
Don’t try to drive out of a hailstorm. Instead, turn on your hazard lights, slow down, and pull over to the curb. You don’t want to drive in a hailstorm, as you won’t be able to see very well, and the falling hailstones could shatter your windshield. You don’t want glass in your face, and a broken windshield will decrease your visibility even more.
Also, other drivers on the road could panic, increasing the chances of having an accident. Once you have stopped, don’t get out of the vehicle. Instead, sit in the back seat, and use a blanket or a coat to cover your head, and protect yourself – just in case.
Being out in a mega hailstorn could be the worst decision of your life. We’ll get to this a bit later.
STEP 2: NO SELFIES
Would you take out your phone, to video massive hailstones falling from the sky, so you could share it on your social media accounts? That idea might be tempting, but according to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, mega hailstones can fall at speeds up to 116 km/h (72 mph). If just one hits your window, it could shatter it, causing the glass to fly everywhere, and injure you. So get as far away from windows as possible.
STEP 3: SHARE YOUR LOCATION
While you’re waiting for the mega hailstorm to end, use your phone to share your location with your friends or family. And sign up for weather alerts, so you’ll know what’s going on outside without leaving your car. Make sure that you carry your portable power bank and a charging cord at all times, because a mega hailstorm can cut off the electricity.
STEP 4:STAY INSIDE
Don’t risk going outside, even if the hail is isn’t falling steadily. You can’t dodge it, and you never know when it might start falling again. However, if your car is no longer safe enough for you and your friends to stay in, carefully evaluate your options. Make a plan to find a better place to hide from the hail. And find something that will protect you, especially your head. Even holding a tree branch over your head could help deflect any falling hail. Don’t run, though. Those uneven chunks of ice are slippery!
STEP 5: FIND SHELTER
If you’re outside when a mega hailstorm starts, head for shelter, and don’t look up. Don’t stand underneath flimsy structures, as they can fall apart. Instead, go into a nearby store or building until the storm is over. And if you’re indoors, finding a basement and staying down there is your safest option.
STEP 6: STAY PUT
Once you’re indoors, stay inside, even if you might have forgotten something valuable in your car. You can replace those things, but you only have one life. It’s not worth it. Stay safe, and stay indoors. Even when you think the storm is over, don’t forget about hail swaths. Hail swaths are the pathways that hail falls in as the storm moves out.
Hail swaths can range in size from just a few meters to an area that’s 16 km (10 mi) wide and 161 km (100 mi) long. So make sure you wait it out completely before heading out. Mega hailstorms don’t happen often, but they can happen almost anywhere. And as climate change worsens, there may be more mega hailstorms.
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- “Hail No: An account of the worlds biggest, deadliest hailstorms”. Dylan, Thuras. 2010. Atlas Obscura.
- “Hail Basics”. 2021. NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory.
- “Bizarre Weather”. 2021. Google Books.
- “What are your chances of being killed by hail in the US?”. accuweather.com