GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — West Michigan is no stranger to hail, with State Farm ranking Michigan as 17th in the nation for claims due to hail damages.
Hail in Michigan can range to as small as pebbles to as large as baseballs. The largest stones reported in the state dropped in 2015 in the West Branch area.
The largest hailstone ever was reported to have fallen by the National Weather Service fell in South Dakota in 2010. The hailstone was a whopping eight inches wide, more than double that of a baseball.
Hail of an inch in diameter or greater can do damage. If a storm is capable of producing hail of an inch in size it is warned as “severe.”
HOW DOES IT FORM?
Hail forms unlike any other type of precipitation. Thunderstorms that grow high into the sky carry water droplets from close to the surface to elevations several thousands of feet into the air. As the water droplets encounter higher altitudes, they freeze into ice shards. This is the first step to hail formation.
These small hail stones will often travel up and down in the storm cloud, riding the updrafts and downdrafts in the sky. As the hail stones travel through the cloud, they collide with super-cooled water droplets. This coats the stones with layers of new ice, allowing them to grow in size.
Hail stones will grow proportionally to the storm strength. If a storm has a very strong updraft, it will be able to support bigger hail stones for longer periods of time. Once the hail stones grow so large they can no longer be held aloft by the wind current in the updraft, they fall to the ground, driven by the force of gravity and proportional to their weight.
This means bigger hailstones fall faster.
Most small hail stones are expected to fall at about 20 mph, according to the National Weather Service. Hail stones of baseball size are theorized to fall between 45 and 70 mph!
WHAT TO DO IF CAUGHT IN A HAILSTORM
Hail can be exceptionally dangerous. Stay weather aware to avoid days when hail is most likely to form. If you are caught in a hail-storm, don’t go out into it.
Sometimes hail stones can range in size. While a storm may only seem to be producing pea-sized hail initially, larger hail stones can begin to fall.
If you are caught in a car during a hail-storm, don’t panic. Stop driving if you can and pull over to the side of the road to lessen the force of the hail onto your car and reduce the chance of losing control of your vehicle. Find a coat or blanket to cover your face and head with, in case the hail is able to break the glass. Hail events of this magnitude are rare, and in most cases the roof and windshield will hold in place even when hail stones are relatively large.
It is always best to be aware of days when severe storms with hail might form, so that you can make a plan to stay safe.