What damage can hail do to your character or their property? Does hail mean a tornado is coming? How can hail impact a garden? How can your character protect their garden and home from hail? What will your character need to do if they are outside and it starts hailing? Find out on this episode. 

Welcome to Writing Rural with Alley, the fiction writer’s weekly inspiration station for rural life and lifestyles, from historical to post-apocalyptic, helping you bring your rural stories to life! I’m Alley, and this is episode #67, Hail. Stick around to the end to find out all the ways things could possibly go wrong. Now, let’s get into this.

Hail, sometimes called hailstones, are balls of ice that fall from the sky. The weather men call it a form of precipitation, and while technically true, most people would never think of hail as precipitation unless it was pointed out to them. 

Hail is formed in thunderstorms when strong updrafts of wind push rain droplets up into extremely cold areas above the earth. They freeze and start to fall, but the updraft keeps pushing them back up, catching a little more moisture on them each time, until they are too big for the wind to push up anymore, and they fall to earth. This can cause hail to have uneven freezing. Some can be round and smooth, while many are spikey and bumpy. 

These updrafts are typically in thunderstorms. They are often associated with tornados, but can form even when there is not a tornado. Some of the updrafts are up, like the name says, but they can also be sideways drafts of air depending on how the air movement is within the storms. This can mean smaller hail is thrown a further ways away from the updraft than larger hail. It can also mean that hail can fall sideways. This can be dangerous, but more on that soon. 

The size of hail can vary greatly, but most often will have a mixture of sizes when it actually falls. These can be from pea sized, which is about 1/4th of an inch or 0.635 cm, up to grapefruit size, which is 4 1/2 inches, or 11.43 cm. Most commonly hail is reported at 3/4ths of an inch or smaller. That is 1.905 cm or under. Although the largest hailstone on record (As of April 2024 when I am recording this) fell in South Dakota in 2010 with a diameter of 8 inches (20 cm), a circumference of 18.62 inches (47 cm) and weighed 1 lb 15 oz. 

In my area of tornado alley, we usually get a dozen or so hail storms each year with anything from pea-sized to roughly one inch. Usually a mix of sizes. Sometimes we get golf ball sized hail, and every few years we get something bigger. I’ve only replaced car windows once, and a second storm that year didn’t break the car windows, but we did have to replace all the shingles on the roof. 

Now, as impressive as that sounds, we are not even in the worse hail part of the US. There is an area of Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming called hail alley. I didn’t know that until I got to researching for this episode. Apparently they get more hail than anywhere else in the US. However, they are not alone in the hail damage. According to a quick Google search, China, Russia, India and northern Italy all have high amounts of hail damage. I was not expecting Italy on that list. You learn something new all the time. 

Now I hear you. “But Alley, what kind of damage can hail actually do other than to a car window?” I’m glad you asked. It depends on the size of the hail. Pea sized hail can cause wear to roofs and things like this. This size is also the type that likes to fall in huge amounts together. I have seen many times over the years this type covering the whole ground in inches of hail in the middle of summer. 

While that doesn’t sound bad, this can be devastating to crops. If your character is depending on those crops to feed their family that winter, they have just lost a lot of the food that could have been grown. If they are a farmer in modern times, this could cause them to lose their income. Sure, in the US we have things to help with that, but not everywhere does. 

Hail from 1 inch to 1 3/4 inch in diameter (basically the size of quarters to golf balls) falls under minor damage. (Keep in mind the damage to crops goes up with each size.) This can cause damage to roof shingles, and make leaks, can cause holes in grass hut roofs, can leave dents in a car’s roof or body that can be so extensive the insurance company totals the car, (Meaning the repairs would be more expensive than what the car is worth.) and can break or shatter windows. If they hit a person or animal, they can leave severe bruising and even fracture bones. 

Hail from 1 3/4 inch to 2 3/4 inch in diameter (basically the size of golf balls to baseballs) falls into moderate damage. I’m not sure who thought of the ratings, but I think they need to rename it, as hail at this size can cause catastrophic damage to cars, buildings, and any people or animals caught out in it. It can strip siding off homes because it batters them into so many pieces. I’ve had them leave golf ball sized holes in my hard wood picnic table, and wood home siding. If a person or animal are hit with this size, it could potentially be fatal. This could even destroy orchards and baseball sized hail has been reported going through homes roofs before. 

There are bigger sizes, but thankfully they are rare. As you can imagine, the damaged would be worse. These have been reported in local news stations around the US to have gone through car roofs, through metal roofs, through shingles and the wooden decking underneath, killed cattle, and even caused severe and extensive damage to concrete and masonry. 

So now that we know how destructive, and potentially deadly, hail can be, let’s cover what your character should and shouldn’t do if they encounter hail. Keep in mind that while they should or should not do something, these are characters, so we can make them do dumb things too, or at least things that are human instinct. Do I really have to tell you guys running out into a hail storm is a dumb idea? Because it is!

If your character is in a home or building when it starts hailing, they should move to an interior room, stay inside, away from windows and doors that hail could potentially come through. If they are in a building with more than one level, they should go to the lowest level of the building. 

If your character is inside a vehicle, or a tractor cab, they should pull over to the side of the road or, in the case of tractors, stop, they should not drive in hail. If possible, move away from windows by laying down on the floor board or lay down in the seat and turn their face toward the seat. If they have blankets, they can cover up to shield themselves from glass. Ok, let’s be real, who has a random blanket in their car unless it is winter? They are more likely to have a jacket, purse, box, gym bag, or something like this that they can use to shield their head and eyes from potential glass flying if it shatters. Keep in mind, it will not shatter every time. If they have little kids, they will cover the child with their own body to shield them. This is a human instinct, even if a person is not a parent. 

If a person is unfortunate and outside when a hail storm starts, they will need to run for cover. This is a human instinct, because even pea sized hail hurts to be hit with. I know I’ve had to dart through it to get inside before. Which going inside a building, home, bard, shed, wood shed, a car, truck, tractor, anything with a roof, even the dog house would be better than standing in hail. 

However, we are writers, and torturing are characters is what we do for fun. I mean, for a good story. Yeah, that was it. So, let’s say your character is in the middle of a field and there is no shelter of any kind nearby. Thier first instinct might be to run under a tree for shelters. However, hail comes with storms, and storms have lightning. Lightning likes to hit whatever is tallest, which could be the tree your character is standing under, meaning they are about to get electrocuted. Talk about a bad day. 

Now, let’s say there are no trees, only a field. They will need to do their best to take up as small of an area as possible, and protect their head. If they have a bag, put it over their head. I even see in my Google search to put your shoes on your head. Yes, I heard the laughter at that pun. Most fatal hail injuries came from a blow to the head. 

Also remember that like with flash floods, it is best to stay out of culverts and low laying areas. These can quickly fill with water from the thunderstorm, and flash flood waters can be deadly if your character is caught in them. I have a whole episode on flash floods if you would like to learn more. 

A few extra tidbits. There is something called a hail net, that is placed over crops to protect from, you guessed it, hail. These are usually held above the plants to give them plenty of room to grow. Historically, and I assume in an Apocalypse, people used to throw blankets, jackets or whatever they could over garden crops if it started to hail. Yes, they took a beating to get them out there, but many knew that those crops were the difference between eating and not eating in the winter. 

Another thing that was common in history, and would likely make a comeback in an apocalypse, are shutters. Shutters used to be made of hard wood and would be closed over a window to protect the glass from storm damage such as hail. Modern shutters are still made, but used more for looks than function nowadays. However, anything is better than nothing when protecting glass. Of course, all of that makes me realize how vulnerable a glass green house would be to hail. 

Historically, hailstones were a nice icy treat that people enjoyed in the hot, humid months. I know that sounds odd, but imagine being in the heat of summer if you had no air conditioning of any kind, and then a bunch of ice shows up. While this was something done in the past, and even in some places today, it is important to remember hail forms around a speck or specks of something. This could be pollen, pollution, dirt, volcanic ash or more. If you are writing post apocalypse, will the hail stones form on something that is now radioactive? An interesting idea. 

Fun fact: In the US alone, hail causes roughly one billion dollars of damage annually. 

What could possibly go wrong? 

Before we get to the best part, if you enjoy this podcast, I hope you’ll take a minute to follow, rate, and review on your favorite podcasting platform. And if you are listening on YouTube, subscribe, hit the like button, and drop me a comment; I love to hear from you and answer questions! Don’t forget to share with a friend. As always, you can find episode show notes and helpful links to learn more on my website, alleyhart.com. Now for everyone’s favorite part! 

Likely to go wrong: Your character’s vehicle has its windows shattered by hail. 

Likely to go wrong: Your character’s home is pelted with hail, just before it is hit by a tornado. Your character will need to have taken cover or this could be deadly. 

Possible to go wrong: Your historical character has never seen hail before. When they encounter it, they believe it is the end of the world, and they are about to die. 

Possible to go wrong: Your character is driving when it starts to hail. Thier window shatters and they are cut in the debris of glass. 

Possible to go wrong: Your character’s vegetable garden is destroyed in a hail storm. They must find another way to get enough food stored before winter or starve. 

Unlikely to go wrong: Your character is living in a grass hut. A hail storm hits, and the hail stones come through the grass roof pelting them. 

Unlikely to go wrong: Your character’s shingles are severely damaged by hail. They only find out it was damaged when the roof starts to leak. 

Unlikely to go wrong: Your character’s pet was outside doing its business, when hail started falling. They could be severely injured. 

Improbable but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Your character is caught outside in a bad hail storm and is hit in the head with a large piece of hail. This could be deadly. 

Improbable but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Your post apocalyptic character experiences a hail storm on a hot summer day. They decide to use the hail to cool a drink. They unknowingly ingest radioactive particles and soon start to show the signs of radiation poisoning. 

Improbable but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Your character’s mobile home is completely destroyed by softball sized hail. 

Thanks for listening! Until next time, happy wordsmithing.

Helpful links to learn more: