Canada Giant hailstone in Alberta, hail events in the United States is lowest

In 2019, a supercell storm near Imperial, Nebraska, was about to swallow up a barn. Almost all hail is made in supercells, which are storms with slow-moving updrafts of rising air.

In 2019, a supercell storm near Imperial, Nebraska, was about to swallow up a barn. Almost all hail is made in supercells, which are storms with slow-moving updrafts of rising air.

How to find Big Hail.

Hailstones of record sizes are falling all around, and the damage from the hailstorm is getting worse. But surprisingly little research has been done to figure out why.

In August, Leslie Scott, a cattle rancher from Vivian, S.D., went to the post office a few days before his 68th birthday. There, he got some bad news. The clerk told him that his world record had been broken. That is, the eight-inch-wide, nearly two-pound hailstone that Mr. Scott found in 2010 was no longer the biggest one ever found. The clerk said that some people in Canada had found a bigger one.

A few days after he heard the news, Mr. Scott said, “I was sad all weekend.” “I told everyone that my record was broken,”

This wasn’t quite right, which was good for Mr. Scott. On August 1, a group of scientists from Western University in London, Ontario, were following a storm in Alberta, about 75 miles north of Calgary. While they were there, they found a huge hailstone. The hailstone was five inches across and weighed just over half a pound. It was half as big and one-quarter as heavy as the one Mr. Scott had. So it was a Canadian record, not a world record.

The Canadian hailstone broke a record that had already been set in Alabama in 2018 (5.38 inches long and 0.612 pounds), Colorado in 2019 (4.83 inches long and 0.53 pounds), and Africa in 2020. (around seven inches long, weight unknown). Australia broke a national record in 2020, and then broke it again in 2021. In 2021, Texas set a new record. In 2018, a storm in Argentina made stones so big that they were given a new name: gargantuan hail. More than the size of a honeydew melon.

But the record-setting has led to more damage from hail. Even though the number of “hail events” reported in the U.S. is at its lowest level in a decade, a recent report from Verisk, a risk assessment company, says that insurance claims for hail damage to cars, houses, and crops will reach $16.5 billion in 2021, which is the most ever. Hail can kill small cars and strip plants down to the stem. Some tin roofs in Vivian still have dents from a storm that broke records 10 years ago. On Wednesday, a hailstorm in Catalonia, Spain, killed a young child.

A piece of hail that was found in a Kansas field after a tornado in June 2010.

Meteorologist Ian Giammanco from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety said, “It’s one of the few weather risks that we don’t always build for.” “And it’s getting bigger and worse.”

Weather experts say that the changing climate probably has something to do with these trends, but that a more complete explanation might have something to do with how human behavior and scientific discoveries feed each other. As more and more people move into areas with heavy hail and more hail damage, researchers have been looking for big hailstones and measuring them. This has sparked public interest and led to calls for more research.

“It’s a pretty exciting time to be doing hail research,” said Julian Brimelow, who is in charge of the Northern Hail Project, a new collaboration between organizations in Canada to study hail. His team found the record hailstone in August.

When Ice…..

At least since the 1960s, people have been obsessed with big hail. At that time, Soviet scientists said they could spread chemicals into the air to make the hailstones in a storm much smaller. The method, called “cloud seeding,” was supposed to prevent crop damage worth millions of dollars every year.

In the 1970s, the United States paid for the National Hail Research Experiment to see if they could get the same results as the Soviets. This time, they did it by putting seeds in clouds above Northern Colorado during hailstorms. Scientists then looked for the biggest hailstones they could find to see if it worked.

Not at all. And research over the past 10 years has shown that the Soviet effort probably also didn’t work. Both countries eventually gave up on the idea, and research on hailstones stopped. However, cloud seeding to make it rain and snow more continued around the world, and it still does.

During that time, in 1986, a storm in Gopalganj, Bangladesh, killed 92 people and left behind a hailstone that weighed 1.02 kilograms, or about 2.25 pounds. This was the heaviest hailstone ever recorded. All information about the hailstone was lost, except for what people who saw it said and how much it was said to weigh. Hail researchers turned the Gopalganj stone into a sort of story with a lesson: There were big hailstones out there, but it was important to record them.

Kiel Ortega, a meteorologist who started studying hail in 2004, had to start cold calling because of this. Using Google Earth, he found businesses in the path of storms and called them to find out what was happening on the ground. “As much as I like chasing storms,” he said, “you won’t have enough money or people to keep going out at some point.”

In 2016, a hailstorm in Fort Worth, Texas, did some damage to an emergency vehicle.

Weather models showed where hail could form and how big the average hailstone would be, but they were often very wrong. So, Mr. Ortega put together a group of researchers and college students to write reports every time a big hailstorm hit the United States. How big was the “hail swath,” or the area where hail fell during the storm? What was the biggest piece of hail?

Most reports of record hail come from regular people, but they aren’t always correct. Most people’s first move when they find a big hailstone? Snap a photo. Second? Tell their family or friends about it. Third? Put it in the freezer. Sublimation, the change from solid ice to water vapor, will cause the hailstone to get smaller over time.

Before the National Weather Service could officially measure and weigh Mr. Scott’s world record, he kept it in the freezer for weeks. During that time, he said, it shrunk by about 3 inches. He said, “I just didn’t know what I had.” “There were a lot more hailstones than the one I picked up, and some of them were bigger.”

….. Hits Your Car

In its shape and layers, every piece of hail has a secret message. Scientists use mathematical models to predict where hail will fall and what it will look like. They then collect and study real hailstones to improve the models, piecing together a stone’s path from the storm to the ground.

But some of the most basic things about large hail are still a mystery. Survey methods vary, and money is hard to come by. How quickly does this hail fall? Why does hail have a certain shape? How big could a piece of hail get?

Dr. Brimelow said, “Hail data are terrible.” “It’s likely one of the worst sets of data in the world.”

Almost all hail is made in supercells, which are storms with slow-moving updrafts of rising air. Matt Kumjian, a meteorologist at Penn State University who studies how storms work on the inside, said that small pieces of ice called embryos get sucked into these updrafts like “a fountain of particles.” When the embryos hit the water droplets, they turn into hailstones that keep growing until they get too heavy to stay in the air and fall to the ground.

In the past few years, Dr. Giammanco and his colleagues have traveled all over North America to scan big hailstones in 3-D. Later, in the lab, using what Dr. Giammanco called “probably the most advanced ice machine on the planet,” the team recreates the hailstones to figure out how fast they fall and how much damage they could do.

Mr. Ortega and his colleagues have been taking pictures of large hailstones in motion with high-speed photography. This means running in front of supercells and setting up camera systems to find out how fast the ice is moving when it hits the ground and what shape it is just before it hits.

Every little thing is a clue. A layer of cloudy hailstones shows that the water on the embryo froze quickly, trapping air bubbles inside. If the ice is clear, it means the water had time to spread out around the embryo before it froze. People think that round hailstones rolled around in the supercell, while spiky ones shot through the storm like comets.

People tend to be interested in how a hailstone’s story ends. If a piece of ice breaks your windshield, does it really matter how it got there? But, Dr. Kumjian said, scientists can get a better idea of where and when big hailstones will fall next if they look back at how hail formed.

Chase Records

When a supercell was moving through central Alberta, the Northern Hail Project caught up with it and got the biggest hailstone ever found in Canada. The researchers used radar forecasting to figure out where the storm would go. About 20 minutes after the hail swath had passed, they stopped on a stretch of road. The ground was covered in baseball-sized hailstones, and the researchers bagged and froze the biggest ones.

In Nebraska, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Targeted Observation by Radars and UAS of Supercells project used a “hail camera” on the front of a truck to study storms.

Dr. Brimelow said that the biggest hailstones are more of an academic interest because they are so rare that they are not as dangerous as golf-ball-sized hail. But Dr. Kumjian said that looking for “the worst-case scenario” can help forecasting models get better and help explain how supercells work. Studying a single hailstone over a long period of time can teach a lot about storms. And, he said, there is the question that can’t be ignored: Where does nature end?

Dr. Kumjian and Dr. Brimelow have been putting together a list of the world’s biggest hailstones. The two people think they know how big hail can get: it weighs just over three pounds and is about a foot across. In September, they will talk about their results at the second North American Hail Research Workshop in Boulder, Colorado.

Francis Lavigne-Theriault, who works for the Northern Hail Project to coordinate storm chases and field operations, said that the fact that large hail was found in central Alberta showed that it probably happens “a lot more often” than was thought before. Dr. Brimelow said that the record was “quite remarkable” because the conditions for hail to form in the area were usually less “juicy” than in other parts of the country.

That is, there are a lot more records to find.

When Mr. Scott found out that his world record hadn’t been broken after all and learned what had happened (the crossed wires, the multiple records, the grams, and the pounds), he was relieved. His birthday wasn’t ruined, and he could tell his friends and family that his record was still good.

He laughed, and then he said, “Someone will pat me on the back.”

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