Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hazards of hail

I can't remember what prompted me, but I had decided to do a post about hail before I heard about the freak hailstorm in New Jersey yesterday! I was curious to know what the largest hailstone measured and whether people have been killed by hail. I have answers on both fronts.
A storm in Aurora, Nebraska, on June 22nd, 2003, produced the largest hailstone on record in the United States, measuring in at 7" in diameter. The softball-sized hailstones whistled as they fell through the air and left craters 3" deep when they hit. The Aurora hailstone surpassed the previous record-holder of 5.7" in diameter, which fell in Coffeyville, Kansas, on September 3rd, 1970. The two photos, taken 33 years apart, both show Nancy Knight in the cold room of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, measuring hail from Coffeyville and Aurora. Hail has been known to kill people directly, rather than by causing trees to fall or making roads treacherous. Some historical and contemporary accounts follow:
  • April 1360 - An estimated 1,ooo English soldiers were killed during a sudden hailstorm while fighting in France.
  • May 1784 - 8 people killed by hailstones in South Carolina, USA.
  • April 1888 - 246 people were killed by hail, either directly or by freezing to death in drifts, in India.
  • April 1897 - 41 people, many of them ranchhands, died from hailstones said to weigh as much as 3 lbs. each in Mexico.
  • May 1928 - 6 children were killed by hail that fell in Romania.
  • June 1930 - 22 people were killed by hailstones in Greece.
  • July 1932 - 200 people killed during a two-hour hailstorm in China.
  • July 1979 - A baby died in its mother's arms when struck by a hailstone in Colorado, USA.
  • March 2000 - A 19-year-old man became the most recent fatality in the USA when he was struck on the head by a softball-sized hailstone in Texas.
  • July 2002 - 15 people died of head wounds when egg-sized hail fell in China.
  • April 2005 - 18 people were killed by hail in China.
  • June 2009 - 37 people were killed in two separate hailstorms in China.
Hailstorms have been costly to property, crops, and livestock, in addition to human lives. Hail forms only in cumulonimbi (thunderclouds) - usually in the Spring and Fall - and Doppler weather radar is accurate at predicting and detecting it. A freak hailstorm may be a novelty, but let's not break any records!

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