What is Hail and How to Protect Yourself

April 22, 2024

Learn about hail, and how to protect yourself and your assets.


Hail, while fascinating from a meteorological standpoint, can inflict serious damage to property, livestock, and even people. Understanding how hail forms and implementing preventive measures can go a long way in mitigating the impact of these icy projectiles.

What is Hail?

Hail is a form of solid precipitation that forms in severe thunderstorms. Unlike typical rain or snow, hail takes the shape of irregularly-formed balls or lumps of ice. The size of hailstones can vary dramatically, ranging from as small as peas to as large as grapefruits in extreme cases.

The Formation of Hail

The Creation of Hail

Hailstones begin their life as tiny ice nuclei inside thunderstorm updrafts. These updrafts are areas of rising air that can reach extremely cold altitudes in the atmosphere. As these ice nuclei are lifted higher into the storm by the updraft, they encounter supercooled water.

Growing in Layers

When these supercooled water droplets come into contact with the ice nuclei, they freeze onto the surface, causing the hailstone to grow. This process continues as the hailstone is carried upward and downward within the storm by the updraft and downdraft, respectively. The constant freezing of water onto the hailstone forms concentric layers of ice, similar to the rings on a tree.

The Role of Updraft Speed and Storm Intensity

The size that a hailstone can reach is directly influenced by the strength of the thunderstorm's updraft. More intense updrafts can support larger hailstones, as they can keep the hailstone aloft for longer periods, allowing it to grow larger. Conversely, weaker updrafts can only support smaller hailstones, as they are unable to keep the hailstone in the storm for as long.

Cloudy and Clear Ice

As the hailstone grows, it can have layers of cloudy and clear ice. Cloudy ice forms when supercooled water freezes instantly upon contact with the hailstone, trapping air bubbles in the process. Clear ice, on the other hand, forms when the water freezes slowly, allowing the trapped air bubbles to escape.

The Descent of Hail

Once a hailstone becomes too heavy for the updraft to support or if the updraft weakens, the stone begins to fall towards the ground. The speed at which hail falls depends on numerous factors, including the size of the hailstone, the strength of the updraft and downdraft, and the presence of wind.

Hail Swaths and Hail Drifts

Hail typically falls in paths known as hail swaths, which can range in size from a few acres to an area 10 miles wide and 100 miles long. Hail swaths occur as storms move while the hail is falling, leading to a trail of hail along the storm’s path.

In some instances, storms can produce copious amounts of small hail, leading to hail drifts. These can pose unique hazards, especially if they cover roadways or clog drainage channels.

The Largest Hailstone on Record

The record for the largest hailstone in the United States goes to a stone that fell in Vivian, South Dakota, on June 23, 2010. This gargantuan hailstone measured 8 inches in diameter and weighed 1 lb 15 oz.

Estimating Hail Size

Hail size is typically estimated by comparing it to known objects. For example, a hailstone the size of a pea is about 1/4 inch in diameter, while a stone the size of a grapefruit is about 4 1/2 inches in diameter. It is important to note that hailstones can vary greatly in size within a single storm.

Hail Prone Areas in Texas

Texas frequently encounters extreme weather events, particularly during its spring storm season. One major concern for businesses in the state during this period is the occurrence of large hail. While the size of hailstones can vary, the risk of larger hailstones increases in spring due to lower freezing levels in the clouds, enhancing the likelihood of hail reaching the ground without melting or evaporating.

The impact of substantial hail can be highly destructive for businesses. Hailstones with diameters measuring several inches can inflict extensive damage on roofs, windows, and vehicles, resulting in repairs that can incur significant costs, often reaching thousands of dollars. It is not uncommon for insurance claims related to hail damage during this season, imposing a financial burden on property owners and businesses.

Specific regions in Texas, such as the notorious "Hail Alley" in North Texas, are especially prone to severe hail storms. The combination of powerful winds and large hailstones can lead to catastrophic damage to commercial properties, causing issues like broken panels and structural damage.

Given the persistent threat of hail storms in Texas, businesses must be well-prepared and protected against hail damage. This proactive approach is essential for weathering the storm and minimizing the financial and operational disruptions caused by these extreme weather events.

Protecting Against Hail

Now that we understand what hail is and how it forms, let's discuss some ways to protect against hail damage.

Stay Informed

One of the best ways to protect against hail damage is to stay informed. Regularly checking the weather forecast and being aware of any severe weather warnings can provide a crucial heads up when a hailstorm is imminent.

Protect Your Car

If you have a garage, use it. If not, consider investing in a carport or a specially designed car cover for hail protection. In a pinch, blankets or even floor mats can provide some protection against smaller hailstones.

Protect Your Home

Your home, specifically your roof, is vulnerable to hail damage. Regular inspections and maintenance can help ensure that your roof is in good condition and better able to withstand a hailstorm. If your home is hit by hail, have it inspected for damage as soon as possible.

Insurance Coverage

Comprehensive auto insurance and homeowner's insurance can protect against hail damage. However, be sure to check with your insurance agent to ensure you have adequate coverage.

Hailstorms, while fascinating, can cause significant damage. By understanding how hail forms and taking steps to protect against hail damage, you can better prepare for these icy barrages.

Hail Banner

Have a question about insurance? Find an independent agent here!

by Lauren Maass

About the Author

Lauren Maass is a Marketing Coordinator at Germania Insurance.

What do you want to read more about? For suggestions, questions, or content-related inquiries, contact us at content@germaniainsurance.com!

Roadside Assistance

We’re here for you, 24/7/365.


File a Claim

File a claim online, by phone or by contacting your agent.


Find An Agent

Find a Repair Shop