Never underestimate

the weather

Weather, flash flood conditions

THE stormy weather of the past week or so has brought home to many the dangers of driving through severe hail storms.

Hail is something that we tend to take in our stride but when it becomes severe it can be as big a threat to life as sheet ice or heavy fog.

Although hailstorms in Britain are only occasional, when they become severe, it is best to be wise and take precautions.

The problem is that hail can strike at any time of the year and provides treacherous conditions instantaneously with the ability to see the road seriously impaired and the tyres losing grip.

Road safety and breakdown organisation GEM Motoring Assist chief executive David Williams says: "If you find yourself in a hailstorm, consider pulling over to a safe place so that the likelihood of the hail breaking the windscreen is reduced. If possible, park under a bridge or canopy to minimise damage to your car.

"If you do decide to pull over, stay in your car. Hail falls at high speeds and can cause injuries.

"If you can't stop under a bridge or canopy, park with your car angled so that the hail will hit the front. After all, your windscreen is reinforced and will be better able to withstand the pelting it could from a hailstorm. Glass in the side windows and rear screen is not as strong and will be damaged more easily."

The word hail (frozen rain) together with its German and Dutch relative hagel, comes from the prehistoric West Germanic word hagalaz, which is related to the Greek word kakhlex, which means pebble.

Hailstones consist mostly of water ice and measure between five millimetres (0.2 in) and 15 centimetres (6 in) in diameter. Hail is different from sleet because sleet falls in cold weather while hailstones grow much bigger when surface temperatures are higher.

I witnessed giant hailstones in Britain some years ago and cars of a nearby car park were stippled with dents, causing massive insurance claims.

Hail is estimated to cause around £705 million in property and crop damage each year. The costliest hailstorm happened in April 2001, from eastern Kansas to southwest Illinois. Property damage in this storm exceeded $2.4 billion (£1.7 billion).

Tennis ball sized hail fell on Munich and surrounding areas on 12 July 1984. It was the greatest loss event in the history of the German insurance industry with some 200,000 cars damaged. The storm cost an estimated £100 million. For years afterwards people jokingly referred to those cars whose bodywork was not repaired as 'Munich Design'.

On July 23, 1996, orange-sized hailstones caused almost £210 million worth of damage in the Canadian cities of Calgary and Winnipeg, as well as serious flooding. Notably, one third of all cars damaged by the storm were deemed irreparable.

In May 2013 a storm dropped hailstones with a diameter of up to 8cm across large parts of southern Germany. Around 70 people were injured by hail and lightning strikes. Total damage inflicted by the hailstorm was measured at about £2.7 billion.

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