Hail is most frequently seen during severe thunderstorms and tornadoes during which balls of ice rain down to the ground. The typical season for hailstorms in the United States runs from March through October but peak time for hailstorms is May to August.
Hailstones can vary greatly in diameter and size. Most hailstones are between an inch and an inch and a half in diameter. The common size of hailstones in Colorado is around ¼ inch. Kansas holds the record for the largest hailstone, it weighed almost 2 pounds and was over five inches in diameter. The good news is that hailstorms are often very short in duration, typically around 6 minutes long and usually less than 15 minutes.
What Can Happen
The bad news is that hail storms can come on very quickly, often without much warning and falling hail can cause devastating damage to animals, plants, structures, vehicles and other equipment. People can be injured, knocked out, or injured by falling hail.
Hail is most often present during severe thunderstorms and tornadoes and accompanied by strong winds and heavy rain which can disrupt power, damage electrical power lines, and cause flooding. Even hail that is small in diameter can shatter windows, damage siding, dent cars, and damage the roof of your house and other structures. If hail is accompanied by a severe storm or tornado, there can be structural damage to your home and other buildings.
Hail can also cause damage to the siding, windows, and roof of your house. Small hailstones can dent your car or crack windshields and larger hail can shatter car windows. People and animals who are caught outside in a hailstorm are at risk for injury and even death if they are struck by large hailstones or repeatedly struck by smaller hailstones.
Here’s an actual hail storm in Oklahoma City from May 2010:
And a more recent video from Colorado Springs in August of 2015 where the hail size is smaller but heavier and actually resulted in flash flooding in the area:
Hail Storm Signs to Watch For
One of the signs of a potential hail storm is white clouds mixed with dark clouds, as demonstrated in this video from Colorado in June 2012:
This video shows the ping pong size hail in Colorado Springs that was discussed in the previous video:
How to Prepare and Stay Safe
As with any type of natural disaster or storm planning, you will want to create a customized family emergency plan for you and your family so that everyone in the family knows what to do when a hail storm is predicted or has begun. Your plan should include things that you implement now as well as safety procedures that you will all follow during and after a hail storm.
Your plan should include creation of an emergency kit that includes food, bottled water, extra cash, copies of important documents in a waterproof pouch, an inventory list of valuables that includes brand, serial, model numbers and even photos if possible. Check out our list of essential survival items for more ideas on what to include as part of your emergency kit.
Write down any relevant contact information for your insurance agent, the fire department, and emergency medical personnel. Inspect fire extinguishers and smoke detectors to ensure they are in good working condition. Have tools on hand to turn off utilities if needed.
In the event that you are caught in your car or at work when a hail storm hits, you will want to have a get home bag prepared and keep it with you in your office or your locker at work. Many preppers also prepare a bug out bag for their car as well.
Stay Alert to Weather Conditions
Before and during a potential hailstorm, you will want to stay tuned to local weather updates via a NOAA radio that can be operated by battery or hand cranking. Pay attention to weather changes on a regular basis so you will be aware when weather conditions seem different than normal for the season.
Identify a Safe Place
Identify the safest part of your home in advance as part of your hail storm safety plan. The safe place you designate should be away from windows, located in a basement. If you don’t have a basement, identify an interior room on the lowest level of the home, such as a bathroom, hallway, or closet that has no windows. You want as many walls between you and the storm as possible.
Prepare Your Home Interior
Secure heavy furniture now, such as armoires, bookcases, or hutches, that could tip over during a storm. This could be as simple as anchoring them to the wall. If a hail storm is approaching, move loose furniture away from windows and doors where it could possibly block your escape. Close all interior doors in the house. Close and lock windows and exterior doors in your home. Close curtains to prevent glass from flying across the room if windows do break.
Inspect your roof frequently throughout the year, but specifically before the start of each hail season, for any weak spots that would be more susceptible to hail damage. Replace damaged shingles and keep gutters clear of debris so that heavy rains can drain properly during and after a storm. Consider installing shingles on your roof that will withstand the damage that can occur from hail. The recommended shingles to protect your roof are FM4473 or UL2218 as Class 3 or 4. If you have a chimney, make sure to inspect it for any weaknesses and repair any weak areas that could be worsened by the hail impact.
Trim trees and bushes to remove any dead or weakened branches that could give way under the brunt of strong winds and hail. Pay special attention to any limbs that are hanging over your house or other structures. This will prevent damage to your structures and reduce the amount of debris that will be blown around and that could cause an injury to you or your family members during a storm.
Consider swapping out rock or gravel in your landscaping with shredded bark or other soft materials that will be less likely to cause damage if blown around by strong winds. Secure patio furniture and other outdoor items that could be blown away or damaged.
Put motor vehicles and recreational vehicles away in a garage or under a car port. If no garage is available, consider purchasing a high tech car cover in advance to either use regularly or have on hand to use when a hailstorm is predicted.
Tips to protect your car using your office building or house as a hail shadow:
Other Tips During a Hail Storm
- Do not use the phone. Avoid touching metal objects like pipes, stoves, and sinks.
- Use flashlight or battery powered lanterns. Avoid using candles which could be blown over if windows break and become a fire hazard.
- Identify escape routes, but stay inside until storm has passed. Determine any additional equipment that you may need to escape successfully such as a rope ladder (if you live above first floor) or a crow bar or chainsaw (in case heavy debris or furniture blocks your escape).
- Plan for meeting place if separated, what to do if caught away from home, etc.
- Agree on a way to signal for help from others if you are trapped. This could be a visible signal that is hung to alert emergency personnel you need help or a whistle in case you trapped out of sight under debris.
- Bring any pets inside the house or garage and herd any livestock into a barn or shed so they are not injured by falling hail or flying debris.
Check with your home insurance company in advance to ensure that you are covered for damage from a hail storm. Many home insurance companies do not provide coverage from hail damage as part of a standard policy. If needed, buy a policy that specifically covers you for hail damage. Know the procedure you need to follow to submit a claim and be prepared to take photos of damage as quickly as possible.
If Driving When a Hailstorm Occurs
- Stop driving as soon as possible. Pull completely off the highway.
- Drive into a nearby parking garage, under a bridge or gas station awning.
- Stay in your vehicle until the hail stops completely.
- If hail hasn’t begun yet, and it’s not terribly windy, you can lay your floor mats on the outside of your front windshield as added protection to help prevent hail from shattering the glass.
- For those who live in an area where hailstorms are a frequent occurrence, consider investing in an inflatable hail protector for your car.
- Stay away from car windows. If necessary lay down on the seat or floor, face down and cover yourself with a blanket or jacket to protect against flying glass.
- Put children underneath you if possible so they are protected.
Following a Hail Storm
- As soon as it is safe to do so, inspect the interior and exterior of your home and property for any possible damage.
- If power and other utilities were affected during the storm, follow proper procedures to enlist help of a professional to get utilities back on safely.
- Notify your insurance agent as quickly as possible and follow their procedures for filing a claim. Separate damaged items from non-damaged, take photos of any damage. Keep receipts for clean-up costs to submit for reimbursement.
- Do not attempt to drive on flooded roadways or other areas.