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Hail: How it forms and what to know

Hail is not usually deadly but it can be dangerous and is an insurance claim waiting to happen. Here is how it forms and some other facts you should know.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Hail is often an underrated severe weather phenomenon even though it causes over one billion dollars in damage every year to crops alone.

Hail is defined as precipitation in the form of balls or clumps of ice. These bits of ice can range in size from pea-size to bigger than grapefruits.

Here’s how hail forms

Hail forms above the freezing line in the middle of the thunderstorm cloud.

But the size of the hail is dependent on the updraft winds within the storm. As the storm gets stronger so does its updraft. A stronger updraft can carry hail stones higher.  This process allows the stones to grow larger.

The hailstone grows as supercooled droplets stick to the core. As this stone travels up and down the storm, it continues to grow through this repeated process. 

Once the hail is too large to be supported by the updraft, it falls to the ground.


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If you cut open a hailstone you can see the rings from this repeated process. The rings are similar to the rings of a tree.

Once a hailstone reaches one inch in diameter, which is about the equivalent of a quarter coin, the hail is capable of producing damage to a car or home. At this size, a severe thunderstorm warning will be triggered by the National Weather Service.

However, nickel and penny-size hail can be a menace for tree leaves.

Most of the hail we see in the Carolinas will be pea-size or a ¼ inch. 

To better comprehend the size of hail, it is often compared to everyday objects. For example, a hailstone about the size of a baseball is 2.75 inches. A hailstone that size is capable of moving 100 mph.

🌩️ If you like weather, watch Brad Panovich and the WCNC Charlotte Weather Team on their Emmy Award-winning Weather IQ YouTube channel. 🎥

Hail records

The world record for the largest hailstone was in Vivian, South Dakota in 2010. The hailstone was roughly the size of a volleyball or 8 Inches across weighing almost 2 pounds!

North Carolina and South Carolina have the same record hail size at 4.5 inches, which is about the size of a CD.

Large hail can also be a precursor to a tornado, which is most often formed by the same supercell thunderstorms

Hailstones are dangerous. To avoid injury, seek shelter whenever a severe thunderstorm warning is issued for your location.

Contact Chris Mulcahy at cmulcahy@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitterInstagram and TikTok.

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