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Hail is a type of precipitation, or water in the atmosphere. Hail is formed when drops of water freeze together in the cold upper regions of thunderstorm clouds.


6 - 12+


Earth Science, Meteorology

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Morgan Stanley

Hail is a type of precipitation, or water in the atmosphere. Hail is formed when drops of water freeze together in the cold upper regions of thunderstorm clouds. These chunks of ice are called hailstones. Most hailstones measure between 5 millimeters and 15 centimeters in diameter, and can be round or jagged.

Hailstones are not frozen raindrops. Frozen rain falls as water and freezes as it nears the ground. Hail actually falls as a solid.

Hailstones are formed by layers of water attaching and freezing in a large cloud. A frozen droplet begins to fall from a cloud during a storm, but is pushed back up into the cloud by a strong updraft of wind. When the hailstone is lifted, it hits liquid water droplets. Those droplets then freeze to the hailstone, adding another layer to it. The hailstone eventually falls to Earth when it becomes too heavy to remain in the cloud, or when the updraft stops or slows down.

Certain parts of the world receive more hail than others. The approach of the summer monsoon season in India brings severe thunderstorms, often with tornadoes and hail. A particularly deadly hail storm in Moradabad, India, in 1888 killed more than 250 people. China also experiences frequent hail storms, as do parts of the Midwestern United States. In fact, the Great Plains region of the United States and Canada is called "Hail Alley."

Hailstones can cause extreme damage to buildings, vehicles, and crops. Not surprisingly, people have tried to find ways to prevent hail. In the 18th century, Europeans began trying to prevent hail by firing cannons into clouds and ringing church bells.

In the 20th century, Russia and the United States tried cloud seeding. Cloud seeding is adding chemical particles into clouds from rockets or aircraft. Cloud seeding is thought to control rain and hail.

There is no clear evidence that any of these techniques are effective.

Fast Fact

According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, the largest hailstone recorded in the United States was found in Aurora, Nebraska, on June 22, 2004. It measured 17.8 centimeters (7 inches) in diameter and had a circumference of 47.6 centimeters (18.7 inches)about the size of a soccer ball.

Fast Fact

Hail and Farewell
In 1360, a hailstorm outside Paris, France, killed hundreds of invading English soldiers. King Edward III soon gave up his conquest of France.

Fast Fact

Look Out Below
In 1986, a hailstorm in Gopalganj, Bangladesh, killed 92 people. The hailstones were reported to weigh up to a kilogram (2 pounds).

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National Geographic Society
Last Updated

May 20, 2022

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