We all know that hail storms can be a massive inconvenience–we live in Colorado after all. From those of you living up north in the Westminster, Broomfield, and Thornton area, to those down on Countyline Rd in Parker–hail is an everyday affair in the Denver/Metro area. But hail can be so much more than just a few dings and divots in your car. It can break windows, break bones and even punch a hole in a car! That’s right, what you think of as a mere annoyance, has a long and not so glorious history of devastating lives here in the US and across the world. So, let’s look into some of these horror stories and maybe anyone of last week’s hail events here in Denver won’t make us feel as bad.
The Science Behind How Big Hail Forms
To understand the damage hail does, let’s first look at how it forms. Basically, what happens is clouds start to make ice cubes and then sends them raining down on our heads fueled by gravity. But what technically happens is drops of super-cooled water get trapped in “storm clouds” by updrafts in the storm. When there is enough condensation (and a strong enough draft upward) the water droplets begin to freeze into a nucleus that grows and grows. This cycle repeats itself within the cloud. Meaning, hailstones cycle back into updrafts, adding layers of ice and growing in size (think, your Gramma’s air-popper). Some hailstones form and grow as a single stone but the really big stones are usually a bunch of hailstones frozen and stuck together. These stones are called agglomerates. As you will see in this blogs, these huge agglomerate are some of the biggest and most times come raining down with long icy horns or spines! When individual stones or agglomerates becomes too heavy for the updraft to maintain they hit a tipping point and come raining down on us in one fell swoop, moving with the storm. This is why it hails in some areas and not others during the same storm–it depends on where the storm is when the hail gets too heavy. Which brings us to our first hail record–heaviest hail weight recorded.
The Heaviest Recorded Hail Stone: Bangladesh 1986
The heaviest hailstone on record at this point in history, and one that has been authenticated by authorities, fell during an epic hailstorm in Gopalganj district of Bangladesh on April 14, 1986. The books have it on record as weighing 2.25 pounds! To put that in perspective that is almost the weight of a medium cantaloupe, raining on your head from thousands of feet in the air, accelerating at 9.8 meters per second squared! It is no wonder this crazy storm ended up killing 92 people! A close second is a storm in Strasbourg, France in 1958 with hailstones reaching 2.1 pounds in weight. Mind you these are only the recorded weight, no doubt throughout history bigger stones have formed.
Watch the video below to learn more about the science of this incredible weather phenomenon:
Next blog we will find out just how big a hailstone gets and more about those spikes and thorns really large hail is known for!