In 2018, hail cost Americans $22 billion dollars in Damages. So far, 2020 is on pace to top that record, already. In 2019, hail caused $15 billion dollars in damages. Hailstorms may be relatively rare, and they are unlikely to cause loss of human life, but they are costly weather events that can cause wide-spread destruction. As a citizen and as a homeowner, it is important that you are prepared to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your property during a hailstorm.
A hailstorm is a thunderstorm that produces hail. Hail is a type of solid precipitation in the form of a piece of ice, from the size of a green pea to the (current world record) size of a bowling ball, also referred to as “hailstones”. Any thunderstorm has the potential to generate hail, but it is more common in areas near mountain ranges where masses of cold and warm air collide. In the US, hailstorms are common from the Dakotas to Texas, Colorado to Missouri. The same thunderstorms that generate tornados have are likely to bring along the slightly less flashy, but more costly, hail in it’s wake, compounding an already intense weather event.
Many communities have early warning systems for severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, and even excessive rain. If you have a local siren system, be sure you are familiar with it. Stay informed on the local weather forecast and if you hear see lightning and hear thunder less than 30 seconds later, seek shelter because a storm may be nearby. You can sign up for severe weather alerts on your cell phone which will let you know as soon as an alert or warning is issued, sometimes days in advance of a weather event. Where you live, there is likely a time of year when thunderstorms are much more common. This would be when you are most at risk for hail damage so note the start of the season and make annual plans to prepare before it begins.
Preparation for a hailstorm has many facets. Since thunderstorms are unpredictable and often occur suddenly, it is necessary to do some preparation well in advance so you can be ready at a moments’ notice. These preparations include things like checking your insurance policy, preparing your property for severe weather, and making an emergency plan with your family.You also will need to know how best to protect yourself during a sudden hailstorm, whether you find yourself safely at home, on the road, or in the great outdoors. Finally, you need to be prepared for the aftermath, the cleanup, and the proper way to file your insurance claims. We’ll approach each of these topics separately. Don’t get overwhelmed. Start where you are and do what you can now to ensure the safety of yourself, your loved ones, and your property in the event of a damaging hailstorm.
Hail accompanies severe thunderstorms so you need to prepare not just for the hail, but potential high winds, accumulating rain, and lightning strikes.
The last thing you should do for general storm preparedness is to create an emergency plan for you and your family. Your local government has an emergency preparedness website that you can access for specific information for your region as well as detailed instructions on how to create a complete emergency preparedness kit. I’ll review the broad strokes and bare minimum here, but you can find more detailed instructions at ready.gov or the website for the American Red Cross.
General storm preparedness is something you want to approach when you are not currently in a state of crisis. Make a plan to handle each of these tasks. Get your family involved. Practice evacuating your house together and talk openly about potential emergency scenarios. You may be worried about alarming your loved ones but the truth is that you will all feel comforted knowing you are prepared to take care of yourselves and each other in case of a disaster. Finally, revise and revisit your emergency plan and kit at least once a year. Even non-perishable food expires and sometimes a landmark for a meeting place changes. The words of Sun Tzu apply here: “Plan for what is difficult while it is easy.”
What do you do when a hailstorm actually happens? Some things are obvious, like “don’t go outside”. While others are a little more subtle, like “beware cement floors”. When you are already experiencing severe weather, hail can turn the situation dangerous very quickly. One of the best ways to prepare is to know how to react to protect yourself and the people around you in case disaster strikes.
If you are at home: If a hailstorm occurs while you are in your home, you are likely in the safest place you can be. Especially if you followed the General Storm Preparedness tips from the section above. During a hailstorm, you should shelter in a secure area of your house, away from windows, tall furniture, hanging fixtures, skylights, and electrical equipment. A basement is ideal as long as it is not at risk for flooding. Close blinds and curtains to help prevent glass from blowing into the house in case of broken windows. Beware of concrete floors and walls. They contain rebar which could conduct electricity in the event of a lightning strike.
If you are in your car: If a hailstorm occurs while you are on the road, your first priority is to find a safe place to stop your vehicle. This can be very difficult if you are on the highway or in a rural area. Resist the urge to use a tree for cover as they may attract lightning and have the risk of falling branches. If possible, park your vehicle in a garage or beneath an underpass. If no shelter is available, simply stop your vehicle and turn your back to the windows to protect your body from broken glass. If you have a blanket of jacket in your car, use it to cover your back and head while you wait until the hail has stopped. It is especially important to communicate this information to young drivers in your family so they are prepared to make safe decisions if they are behind the wheel in a serious storm.
If you are outdoors: We’ve all faced the scenario: you just teed off at the golf course or you’re halfway through your afternoon run and you hear a rumble of thunder in the distance. You may even see a flask of lightning. Do you get in your car and drive all the way home? Is your car nearby? Do take a seat on the metal bench at the bus stop or run for the nearest building? As a rule of thumb, if you see lightning then hear thunder less than 30 seconds later, it is time to seek shelter. If a building is available, go inside and follow the same guidelines as sheltering within your home. Your second best choice is your car. Get inside and wait out the storm. If hail occurs, follow the steps in the “If you are in your car” section. If absolutely no cover is available, crouch down low to the ground and protect your head and face as much as you can with whatever is on hand.
In case of flood conditions: One of the hazards of hailstorms is flash flooding. If you are caught outdoors during a sever thunderstorm, be aware of your elevation. If you are in a low area, seek high ground immediately. Avoid creeks, gullies, valleys, hollows, trenches, and river beds. Never drive or walk into water of unknown depth. Never drive or walk through flowing water during a storm or a flood. It only takes 6 inches of rapidly moving water to sweep a person off their feet. Two feet of rushing water is enough to wash away a vehicle. If you encounter swift moving water during an emergency, seek high ground immediately or find another route. If you are in your car and water begins to rise, get out and seek high ground immediately. The National Weather Service has an easy-to-remember saying: “Don’t drown, Turn around!”
Hail can cause serious damage and destruction, especially to homes, businesses, and vehicles, making it one of the most costly weather events in the United States. If you are the victim of a hailstorm and have suffered property damage, you may want to get right out there and start repairing your possessions immediately. If you followed the General Storm Preparedness steps, you are already familiar with your hail insurance policy and your home and property were well prepared so damage was likely minimized. There are just two steps you should follow next to pick up the pieces after a hailstorm.
The biggest risk from severe weather, including hailstorms, is unpreparedness. Just by reading this article, you’ve taken the first step for protecting you, your family, and your property from injury and damage from hailstorms. Next, you need to share this information with your family and friends so that they are all as prepared as you are. In the comments, tell us who you are going to make an emergency preparedness plan with. Do you already have a plan in place? How prepared do you feel for a hailstorm? If the first half of this year is any indication, we all could use this advice. Share your thoughts in the comments.