Road safety organisation GEM Motoring Assist is advising drivers to be ready for spells of severe weather this summer. The warning follows a number of incidents already this year where hailstorms were occurring at the time.
GEM chief executive David Williams MBE says: “Although hailstorms in the UK are only occasional, they can strike at any time of year, with little notice, and will create treacherous driving conditions immediately. Your car’s grip on the road and your ability to see are reduced, leading to a significant increase in your risk of losing control.
“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. Is 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 “kákhlēx”, which means “pebble”.
Hailstones consist mostly of water ice and measure between 5 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.
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: 200,000 cars were damaged and 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 24 July 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.