The Threat of Hail This Time of Year in the U.S. + How to Stay Safe

“Hail damage to car windshield” by State Farm is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Hail has been described as America’s most underrated climate risk. For people living in so-called Hail Alley –– an area that stretches from Wyoming to Texas –– this won’t come as a surprise. The region reports more hailstorms, and more severe ones than in the rest of the US. 

But severe hailstorms are no longer mostly confined to Hail Alley; they are spreading across the country. A recent study found that that hail is expanding its footprint across the country while also becoming more frequent in central states. 

Who Is at Risk from Hail? 

Hail forms when a thunderstorm with strong upward winds pushes falling raindrops back up into the atmosphere until it gets cold enough for water to freeze. So, hail can form anywhere where thunderstorms, even in warmer climates such as Florida, but the hail may not always fall to the ground. If the air is too warm, the hail will melt or hit the ground in much smaller pellets.

In Hail Alley, the air is cold enough for the hail to stay frozen until it hits the ground. If you live in an area at a higher elevation, you are also more likely to have severe hailstorms, as there is less time for the pellets to melt before they reach the ground. 

May is peak tornado season in the United States, so it’s the time when severe thunderstorms come together most often. As hail forms in thunderclouds, the risk of a storm is high. However, as the air temperature is higher in the late spring and summer, there is more chance the hail will have melted or shrunk before it hits the ground. 

How Can I Stay Safe From Hailstorms? 

Ideally, if you’re caught in a hailstorm, you should get inside as quickly as you can and then shut and secure the windows by closing blinds or shades. This will prevent any broken glass from entering your home. If you have a basement or cellar, move down there until the storm is over, as hailstorms can put pressure on weak rooves. 

If you are driving, try to find somewhere safe to pull over. Then either turn your back to your windows or put a blanket over yourself and try to stay low, so you avoid any broken glass caused by hailstones. 

Hail can also cause electrical outages, so make sure you are prepared with either a backup generator or supplies if you don’t have any power or can’t leave your home. 

Finally, remember that hailstorms are often accompanied by other severe weather events such as tornadoes or hurricanes, so listen to weather reports and only leave your home when you’ve been told it’s safe to do so.