Has your home or car been affected by a hail storm? (image via google)

Luckily, here in Arizona, hail doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it can do serious damage.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), hail causes more than $1B in damage each year.  It flattens crops, breaks windows, damages roofs, and dents cars.  Even small hail stones can cause major problems because of the speed at which they hit, often approaching 90 miles per hour.  The Insurance Information Institute reports that in 2011, Arizona experienced 20 hail events.  In comparison to some other states, that number is very small, but as we learned in October of 2010, it only takes one storm to cause widespread losses.   The best way to protect yourself and your property from damage is to know what to do when hail happens.

What is Hail?

Hail starts out as small chunks of ice that become larger when they collide with water droplets.  The churning nature of the storm, filled with updrafts and downdrafts, sends these little pieces of ice up and down through the varying temperatures contained within the cloud layer.  When the ice pellets go up, the water freezes around them, increasing their size and causing them to fall.  This can happen over and over again and determines the size of the hailstone.

Hail happens most frequently during thunderstorms in the spring and summer months, but can occur anytime the conditions are right.   In order for a thunderstorm to produce hail, the cloud layer needs to have a high liquid content, large water droplets, the right temperature, and sufficient buoyancy.  The kind of intense updraft winds found with tornados also help create the conditions for producing hail.

The Damage it Does

Hail can cause damage to anything it can hit which includes your home, your car, your crops, your animals, your business, and of course, yourself.  Hail can cause serious damage to the roof of your home, breaking shingles, causing structural damage, and creating leaks.  It can also break windows in your home or business which allows accompanying weather phenomena like rain and wind to damage the building’s interior.  Hail can also break the windows and windshields of cars, trucks, RVs, and airplanes.  Although only cosmetic, hail can also cause hundreds of small dents all over the vehicle, decreasing its value.  Hail can injury humans and animals and destroy crops.

How to Protect Yourself

The best way to protect yourself and your property from hail damage is to ensure you have adequate insurance coverage in place that protects you from losses from hail.  Hail damage to a home is generally covered under most standard homeowner’s policies.  It is also included in most comprehensive auto coverage.  However, it is important to read through your policies to ensure this coverage is included in your actual policy.  If your policies do not provide protection from losses resulting from hail, talk to your insurance agent about the options you have to secure this coverage.

You can also take important steps when a hail storm is eminent to limit the damage to your property.  Move any vehicle inside a garage, car port, or covered parking lot.  If none of these are available, you can cover the car with thick blankets that will help cushion the impact of any hailstones and limit the damage.   Bring any animals indoors and take shelter in a room without windows.  There is little you can do to protect crops, homes, or buildings when a storm is coming, which is why it is so important to have the right insurance coverage in place before hail happens.

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How far away is the lightning you see? (Image via weatherwizkids on google)

Lightning Safety Week begins on June 24th and runs through the end of the month this year.   Groups of all types from your insurance provider to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric  Administration (NOAA) will be spreading the word and making sure everyone knows how dangerous lightning can be and what steps to take when a thunderstorm rolls through.   The National Weather Service’s motto this year is “When the thunder roars, get indoors!” which is a reminder to everyone that in a thunder storm the safest place for people is inside of a building.

According to the National Weather Service, about 54 people are killed each year by lightning strikes.  There are also hundreds that are injured or disabled, sometimes seriously when they are struck.  For those that survive, symptoms like memory loss, chronic pain, dizziness, muscle spasms, and fatigue can persist for years after the initial injury.  This is why it is so important for everyone to be safe when lightning starts to strike.

How Close is Too Close?

New information into how lightning behaves in a storm and how far from the center of the storm it can strike has changed many of the safety protocols and concepts previously taught.  For example, children used to be taught that if you counted the number of seconds between the flash of the lightning and the roar of the thunder, you would know how many miles there were between you and the storm.  Each second equated to one mile so 10 seconds meant 10 miles.  Now, that formula is a little different.  If you count the number of seconds between the lightning and the thunder and divide it by 5, you know how many miles the storm is from you.  In the previous example, that 10 becomes a 2.  When you pair that with the new understanding of lightning’s range, it is easy to understand why the recommendation is to get inside as soon as you hear that first roar of thunder.

The Dangers of Lightning

Beyond the obvious physical harm people face of with a direct strike, lightning also poses other dangers.  One of the biggest is fire.  Lightning strikes can ignite forest and brush fires, especially in places that are very dry.  Lightning striking your home can also result in fire, which makes it even more important to have a family fire evacuation plan and fire protection supplies like fire extinguishers and smoke detectors in place.  If your home catches fire as the result of a lightning strike, it is very likely that the loss is covered by your homeowners insurance.  The next danger, power surges, may not be covered, which means you need to check with your insurance agent to determine if your possessions are protected.  When lightning strikes, it can cause power surges to race through the power grid, affecting homes far from the actual storm.   Make sure all electronic equipment, which is the most vulnerable to power surge damage, is plugged into a surge strip that protects against the type of surges caused by lightning.

Protecting Yourself

Although the safest place to be in a thunder storm is inside a building like your home, this won’t keep you 100% safe from lightning strikes.  When a building is struck by lightning, the electric current can travel through the building in a number of ways.  It can use the electrical system, the plumbing system, and even the metal bars used to reinforce the building.  These currents surging through the house can hurt you if you are not careful.  During a thunderstorm, stay away from all electronics including computers and appliances.  Don’t take a shower or come in contact with water from your plumbing system.  Don’t talk on the phone unless you are using your cell phone.  These steps will help keep you safe if the house or building you are in is struck.

Take some time over the next week to help educate others about lightning safety and spread awareness for lightning safety week.  Just remember, if you hear the thunder roar, get indoors.

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