Large hail has accompanied the recent spate of tornado outbreaks across the U.S. including stones 4.5” in diameter in the Abilene, Texas area on April 24 and possible state records for largest hailstone on record in Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia during just this past month. This blog is a revue of the greatest hailstorms on record and the largest individual stones yet measured.
Hailstorms and Hailstone Size in the U.S.A.
There have been a handful of hailstorms that resulted in $1 billion or more in damages in the U.S. The costliest storm appears to be that of April 10, 2001 which cut a swath along the I-70 corridor from eastern Kansas to southwestern Illinois and pounded the St. Louis area. Property damage was in excess of $2.4 billion in 2010 dollars. The hailstorm that struck the Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas metro area on May 5, 1995 also caused an estimated $2 billion in damage (adjusted to current dollars). The only other $1 billion dollar hailstorm on record was that which pummeled the Front Range of Colorado between Colorado Springs and Fort Collins on July 11, 1990 causing $1.6 billion damage in 2010 inflation-adjusted dollars.
In spite of the enormous crop and property damage that hailstorms have caused only three people have ever been killed by falling hailstones in the United States: 1) a farmer caught in his field near Lubbock, Texas on May 13, 1930 2) a baby struck by large hail in Fort Collins, Colorado on July 31, 1979, and 3) a boater on Lake Worth, Texas on March 29, 2000.
Mr. and Ms. Clarence Costner proudly display baseball-sized hail that fell on their farm near Norbonne, Missouri date unknown. Photo from Weatherwise Magazine, August 1976.
The largest officially recognized hailstone on record to have been ‘captured’ in the U.S. was that which fell near Vivian, South Dakota last summer (2010) on July 23rd. It measured 8.0” in diameter, 18 ½” in circumference, and weighed in at 1.9375 pounds. Mr. Lee Scott, who collected, the monster stone originally planned to make daiquiris out of the hailstone but fortunately thought better and placed it in a freezer before turning it over to the National Weather Service for certification.
The largest official hailstone ever collected in the U.S. An eight-inch monster that fell at Vivian, South Dakota on July 23, 2010.
Other instances of 8-inch hail have been reported in the past but not certified. The U.S. Weather Bureau’s Climatological Data by Sections Vol. 22, Part 2 April-June, 1935 mentions a hailstorm producing 8-inch diameter hailstones at Ponca City, Oklahoma on April 17, 1935 (see p. 18 in the Oklahoma section).
Below is a list by state of the largest hailstones ever measured. Only a few states maintain an ‘official’ list of such records which I have listed first and then followed up with a list of ‘unofficial’ sizes by state that I have gathered from various sources. If any readers could add to this list or correct it, I would be much appreciative!
Bart McCarthy inspects a 5.5”-diameter hailstone that fell near Wisconsin Rapids on June 7, 2007. It is the 2nd largest hailstone on record for the state of Wisconsin. Photo from NWS Green Bay, Wisconsin archives.
Some hailstorms train over the same area (or stationary thunderstorms develop) producing massive hail accumulations. Hail accumulated to over 12” deep on level in El Dorado, Kansas on June 23, 1951 and a storm at Seldon, in northwest Kansas, left an 18”-deep accumulation of hail over a 54 square mile area on June 3, 1959.
An aerial view of a deep hail swath accumulation over Seldon, Kansas. The 18” of hail fell on the town on June 3, 1959. Photo from the Norton Telegram newspaper archives, Norton, Kansas.
Heavy rainfall following a hailstorm causes the hail accumulations to wash into ditches or creek beds and enormous piles of hail accumulate. This was the case during a storm south of Clayton, New Mexico on August 13, 2004 when a 12-inch hail accumulation was swept into a draw by 5” of rainfall. A culvert in the draw became clogged by the flow and the hail piled up to 15 feet deep behind it!
Hail cliffs 15 feet high line the bottom of a creek near Clayton, New Mexico following a deluge on August 13, 2004. Photo by Barbara Podzemny.
Some Notes on Large Hail Around the World
A map of world hail incidence. The most hail prone spot on the planet is Kericho, Kenya that averages about 50 days of hail each year and, in 1965, recorded 113 days of hail. Map by Mark Stroud and from my book ‘Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book’ p. 162.
Bangladesh and India
The deadliest hailstorms, and perhaps the largest hailstones, in the world occur on the Deccan Plateau of northern India and in Bangladesh. The heaviest authenticated hailstone ever measured was one of 2.25 pounds that fell in the Gopalganj district of Bangladesh on April 14, 1986. The stones size was not measured although anecdotal reports claimed the stones were the size of “pumpkins”. Ninety-two people perished as a result of the storm although how many of these can be attributed to the hail is uncertain. A hailstorm in the Moradabad and Beheri districts of India killed 246 people on April 30, 1888, the deadliest hailstorm on record in modern history.
In China 25 were killed by hail in Henan Province on July 19, 2002 and a possibly reliable report claims 200 were killed by hail in Hunan Province on June 19, 1932.
In Europe a hailstone weighing 2.14 pounds was measured following a storm in Strasbourg, France on August 11, 1958. The size was not noted. Europe’s most catastrophic hailstorm was that which struck Munich, Germany on July 12, 1984. Some 70,000 homes (and 190 aircraft!) were damaged and 400 people injured by hail the size of baseballs. Property damage was estimated at over US$2 billion.
Perhaps the single costliest hailstorm in world history was that which struck the Sydney, Australia area on April 14, 1999. Hailstones up to 3½” in diameter fell for almost 60 minutes damaging 20,000 structures and 40,000 vehicles. The total damage came to US$3 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars and remains Australia’s costliest natural disaster.
A hailstorm bears down on Sydney, date unknown. Photo by Carl Ord.
Canada’s largest hailstone of record was that collected at Cedoux, Saskatchewan on August 27, 1973. It measured 114 mm in diameter (4.5”) and weighed 290 grams (10.2 ounces). Probably the costliest hailstorm was that which affected 130 sq. kilometers in the Calgary, Alberta area on September 7, 1991. It caused $400 million in Canadian dollars damage.
There are many apocryphal or unsubstantiated stories of giant hailstones from many corners of the world including a stone weighing 4.18 pounds in Kazakhstan in 1959; an 11-pound stone in Guangxi Province, China in 1986; and, best of all, a hailstone the size of an “elephant” in Seringapatam, India sometime in the late 18th century! Many of these events are more likely not hailstones but hydrometeors, large chunks of ice that fall from the sky for some unknown reason or source.
REFERENCES: The only book I am aware that is solely devoted to hail is Snowden D. Flora’s classic Hailstorms of the United States published by the Univ. of Oklahoma Press back in 1956. It is still a great reference.
The best hail-related web site is hail.org.