I did not plan this post. But yesterday our area was in the path of an enormous and ferocious storm that pelted everything it passed over with hailstones large and small, round and irregular. It came suddenly, without that distinctive warning smell of impending hail, and the hailstorm roared over us for about ten minutes, shattering and pulverising as it went.

The fallen hailstones of various shapes and sizes in the photo above form a rather pleasing pattern, and so I thought this post qualifies to be part of my series on patterns in nature.

The attractive pattern of the fallen hail stones belies the damage that they had wrought on plants, vehicles and buildings. I dread to think about the harm done to living creatures, especially insects and birds, and these hail stones were large enough and falling with sufficient speed to cause harm to larger animals too, as well as any people unfortunate enough not to be able to find shelter.

Hailstones on the ground

Not only are hail stones within a single storm variable in size and shape but also in their opacity. Hail forms when water droplets freeze in updrafts in thunderstorm clouds as they are carried up into extremely cold areas of the atmosphere.

As these frozen droplets are lifted up and circulated by updrafts and rotating winds in the thunder clouds they collide with liquid droplets  that freeze onto the surface of the frozen droplets and so hailstones increase in size as these frozen layers add up. (For more information see Hail Basics from the NSSL (National Severe Storms Laboratory).

Layers in a hailstone

Opaque hailstones, or opaque layers in the hailstones, occur when the water droplets freeze rapidly trapping air bubbles in the ice. If the water freezes more slowly the air bubbles can escape and the ice that forms is clear. In this hailstone (above) that we picked up after yesterday’s storm layers of opaque and clearer ice can be seen.

Hailstones larger than a golf ball

Many of the hailstones that fell in yesterday’s hailstorm were slightly larger than golf balls, though there were also a significant number of stones that were larger than that.

The hailstorm began slowly yet with large stones falling right from the start, but the storm rapidly escalated in intensity with a strong wind blowing and a cacophony of sound as the stones fell fast and furious on the house, cracking tiles, breaking a few windows and knocking holes right through the polycarbonate sheeting roofing our outdoor decks.

Hailstorm suburban garden KwaZulu-Natal

Within minutes the hail lay thickly on the ground.

Here is another view of the storm from our front deck. The first photo shows the beginnings of the hailstorm with a sparse scattering of hail. Within minutes I had to retreat inside for shelter and photograph the falling hail through a slightly opened door, as holes were punched in the guttering above me and hailstones blew in under the roofing and shattered on the deck in front of me. 

After the storm passed many of the trees were stripped of most of their leaves and the lawn was covered in a mixture of smashed leaves and hail stones.

Hailstorm, KwaZulu-Natal

This photo was taken at the back of our house while the storm was raging. Even the washing lines on the windy dryer (rotary dryer) were snapped  by the force of the falling hailstones. The dangling lines can just be seen to the left of the photo. The washing line in the foreground was protected to a degree by the rapidly disintegrating polycarbonate sheeting roof above it.

Hailstorm with a heavy fall of hail stones

The hail falling steadily can be seen layering up on the back patio area.

Hailstorm with damage to roofing

As the hail fell, the hailstones punched through holes in the roofing outside our back door with sickening regularity.

View of hail damage through window

The grapevine over the back deck was shredded as can be seen in this view through a window.

Broken window pane damaged by hail

The hail beat holes through the glass panes of the dining-room window that faced the prevailing wind.

Ridgeback dog viewing hailstones after a storm

Our dogs and cats had been terrified during the storm. When it was all over, the dogs ventured outside with us to inspect the hailstones and the damage.

Ridgeback dog viewing fallen hail stones after a storm

Our dog Rory was not happy, and to be honest neither were we. It took a while for the reality of what had happened to sink in, although of course the damage might have been a lot worse.

Fallen leaves and fallen hailstones

The garden was strewn with felled leaves and fallen hailstones.

Leaves stripped by falling hailstones

After they fell these hailstones were partly buried by leaves and seeds of a wild pomegranate (Burchellia bubaline) that were torn down by the falling hail.

Aloe ferox damaged by hail

This young Aloe ferox will take a long time to recover from the hail damage to its long and pulpy leaves.

Aloe pruinosa damaged by hail stones

All the aloes took a beating, including this Aloe pruinosa, photographed today after yesterday’s storm.

Watering can damaged by hail

It was not only the plants that took a beating. This metal watering can was substantially reshaped by the hail. The garden hosepipes too were damaged and now have multiple leaks after taking direct hits from falling hailstones.

Roofing damaged by hail

The tough polycarbonate sheeting roofing has withstood previous hail storms but this storm was too much. Most of the roof gutters are full of holes too and will have to be replaced.

Roofing tiles cracked by hail stones

Our house was built in 1948 and has thick and tough roof tiles (decorated with lichen as can be seen in the photo). These tiles have survived many a storm before this one, but they met their match in yesterday’s storm and very many tiles were cracked.

We have two domed sun-tunnel sky lights, and they were both smashed and once they were broken they funneled hailstones and rain into the house. 

There is much repair work to be done! In the meantime we have buckets under the leaks in the roof catching further falls of rain. Yesterday just over 50 mm (nearly 2 inches) of rain fell in total, according to our rain gauge. (Most surprisingly, the rain gauge survived the storm undamaged.)

Fallen hailstones

Hopefully, it will be a very long time before we see another hailstorm of this magnitude.

Posted by Carol