Reporter’s close call with hail serves as a reminder to all drivers
A large hailstone came crashing down in front of one of AccuWeather’s reporters during a storm chase this week. He says it's a good reminder of the dangers severe weather can bring.
Severe storms sweeping through the central U.S. on April 19 struck communities from Wisconsin to Oklahoma with intense hail.
A hailstone came a little too close for comfort for one AccuWeather reporter during a storm chase this week. Now, he's reminding people that even if there isn't a tornado in your area, severe weather can really pack a punch.
AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell was filming a video of a storm forming in Blanchard, Oklahoma, on Wednesday evening. From the passenger seat in the car, Wadell had the camera up close to the windshield, trying to focus on the formation of the cloud in the distance. But in the blink of an eye, a large hailstone came crashing down right in front of him.
"Oh my gosh," Wadell shouted as the windshield cracked.
A three-inch hailstone came crashing down on the windshield of the car Bill Wadell was storm chasing in on Wednesday, April 19, 2023. (AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell)
The hailstone was about 3 inches in diameter, which is slightly larger than a baseball.
"Thankfully, the safety glass prevented [it] from coming all the way through, but we had shattered glass come in," Wadell told AccuWeather Senior On-Air Meteorologist Kristina Shalhoup Thursday morning.
Wadell said this scary encounter served as a good reminder of why people should always be alert when severe weather is in the forecast. Even if there isn't a tornado warning in your backyard, severe storms can still produce large, destructive hail, which can damage vehicles and potentially lead to accidents on the roadways.
From peas to softballs: How big can hail become?
The size of the hail is directly linked to the strength of a thunderstorm. A strong updraft, or upward current of wind, allows hailstones to make several vertical loops inside a thunderstorm cloud. As they do this within the thunderstorm, they collect layer upon layer of ice, which makes them grow in diameter.
Hail sizes typically range from as small as peas to as large as softballs.
Hail must be 1 inch in diameter or larger for a thunderstorm to be considered "severe." A thunderstorm can also be labeled severe if it contains winds of 58 mph or greater or a tornado.
In very rare circumstances, hailstones can be larger than 4 inches. In April of 2021, a damaging severe storm in Texas produced a record-breaking hailstone.
It measured 6.4 inches in diameter and 19.73 inches in circumference, according to the report from the National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI). The 1.26-pound hailstone went down in record books as the largest hailstone ever to be recorded in Texas.
The larger the hailstone is, the greater the risk it poses. Any people or animals outside when a hailstorm strikes can sustain life-threatening injuries. It is vital to head indoors or provide animals with proper shelter before a thunderstorm strikes, experts warn.
What about if you're driving in a hailstorm?
According to The Insurance Information Institute, Texas, Nebraska and Minnesota were the top three states with the most hailstorms in 2022, but the reality is they can occur anywhere. If you find yourself in a vehicle when hail starts falling, it is essential to know what to do.
Get under cover and stay inside your vehicle
If it starts hailing and you are driving, the best thing to do is to find shelter. A structure with a stable roof will provide the most protection to your vehicle during a hailstorm. Since hailstorms are typically accompanied by gusty winds, avoid taking shelter under trees or other objects that could fall on your car.
"If you can find a parking deck or get under an overpass, that would be ideal to protect you and your car," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Pydynowski. "However, [you] don't want to be under a low-lying underpass that could easily flood in heavy rain."
It is not safe to shelter under an overpass in the case of a tornado either due to the threat of debris.
Pydynowski adds that gas stations are a good place to shelter during a hailstorm. The canopy above the gas pumps will provide protection to your vehicle.
Hail damage can be seen on the hood of the car. (Marima Design/Getty Images)
Additionally, it is crucial to protect yourself from hailstones. Hail falls fast and sometimes has sharp, irregular edges that can cause serious injury. Any protection, like your vehicle, is better than no protection.
Slow down, pull over and use your windshield as protection
If there is no covered shelter nearby, the next best option is pulling over, Pydynowski says.
Since hail falls rapidly from the sky, it will cause more damage to a moving vehicle compared to a stationary one, Pydynowski explained.
When driving to a safe place to take shelter, make sure to take it slow and keep plenty of room between you and the driver in front of you.
Windshields are made to withstand heavy impact, but other windows are not. Position your vehicle so the hail hits the front windshield. Use a blanket or jacket to cover yourself from any debris or glass that could hit you, particularly your head.
Be weather aware
Drivers should always be prepared for inclement weather conditions on the roadways. That includes checking the weather forecast before heading out the door.
Since the weather can change in a matter of minutes, it's important for drivers to have a way to receive weather alerts while on the road. Drivers should keep blankets and an emergency kit easily accessible.
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