Large hail and chasing.

  • Thread starter Jason A.C. Brock
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Large hail and Gorilla hail

  • Always

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  • Not if it keeps me from the nader!

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  • Somtimes

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  • Unless its Unavoidable

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  • Hail? Whats that?

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  • Total voters

Jason A.C. Brock

I have noticed on the past few days that there seems to be ALOT of chasers who have windshields broken from very large hail.
I am curious as to how different chasers approach this scenario. This isnt a knock on anyone so before the hate mail or sarcastic remarks start pooring in hear me out :). I am jsut curious as to how many chasers will try to avoid large hail say over golfballs and how many chasers will jsut blow off the chances of losing windshields.
Lord knows ive been caught in baseball hail and we all have had the times when avoiding such an incident is virtually impossible. Especially on the poor road networks or areas of Texas and not to mention the massive North Texas and West Texas HP "ice blenders" that ocur in those regions. We also dont always have available data in these regions as cell phone reception WIFI and even repeater towers for HAM can be few and far between.
I am just curious again as to how different chasers take large hail into account in chasing.
I am sure I will lose a windshield or window at some point. I hope that I dont but in chasing at some point its ging to happen to the best chasers.
Also how do different chasers feel about pics of broken windshields? I personally am not sure if I would put a pic of my broken windshield on the net or not. I had a friend comment to me about this saying he felt it kind of sent to wrong message to newbie chasers that getting into large hail situations was more acceptble.
Again not trying to "stir the pot" or "poke the snake with a stick" but Im love to hear different chaser tactics on what your approach might be to a cell you are pretty sure contains golfball size hail or larger. Especially when we are talking baseballs and softballs.
One of the things I fear most is softball size hail that jsut doesnt quit and knocks out the windshield and then begins to bounce around the vehicle. The shards of glass cant be fun either.
Lightning is alsoa bit jumpy but I love to photograph the stuff and even a partial strike to myself hasnt kept me away yet. Ill sve that for another thread however.

P.S. I may also have a tendency to avoid large hail because when I was about 14 I was in a 30 year old trailer house at Possum Kingdom Lake in Palo Pinto County Texas when a storm rolled in about midnight producing grapefruit hail and sure enough it hit us. The stuff nearly came through the roof. The lake had iceballs floating i it for about an hour.
Jason I think this is certainly a topic worthy of discussion. I have been storm chasing since '98 with my good friend Jay Antle, and I guess we employ different chase strategy than the majority of others. We aren't necessarily "tornado" chasers, but "storm structure" chasers, and when one "structure" chases, it is lower-risk storm chasing with regards to dealing with hail > 2" in diam, 60+ mph winds, etc. I'd rather enjoy the storm from 4-8 miles away from this nasty stuff then get right up in there for what would more than likely be a low-contrast tornado lasting a few minutes or less. Storms are far more photogenic from this distance anyway. That said, we are still storm chasers and risk damage or even injury from these elements.... due mainly to either being out of position to the north with the only option to get to the other side being punching the core... or the seldom few situations where we want to get closer than we ordinarily would.

My almost 10 years experience (I can't believe I've been doing this that long!) has told me that when it comes to chasing high-extreme CAPE situation with strong shear in the climo/geographical giant hail hotspots in the world (pretty much anywhere in the plains west of I-35 to the Rockies!)... I try my damndest to steer clear of the updraft/vault region of the supercell. I know what storms like these can do, they do it all the time, and it's not my idea of fun! A lot of other chasers enjoy giant hail, I'm not one of them. It makes for great video, which is another long topic of discussion -- I'm not shooting video anymore. My chasing behavior is becoming more and more cautious around monster supercells, mainly due to the fact that I'm seeing more and more chasers getting in there risking it and seeing what these storms can do... like May 12th last year near South Plains and other classic West TX days such as the past two (May 4-5).

I have no idea how many miles I've chased since 1997... probably in the 120-140k miles range... but I've only managed to get myself into a nasty hail situation just once; May 2000 (I forget the date), a late-evening hail storm of 3" diam stones on the south side of Amarillo. I got great video of the major damage to my Jeep as it was happening -- but I am hoping that is the last time I deal with that mess. This was after dark when we were more cocky and in-experienced than I am now (at least I think!) trying to incercept a reported tornado near Dawn approaching southwest AMA. We blindly tried to intercept a nighttime tornado and paid the consequences. We never saw a tornado, but we saw a *-load of baseballs.

This is why I love early-spring setups, the pseudo- or full-fledged cold-core setups when the environment very rarely supports giant hail. I can deal with golfballs. I can't deal with anything larger than that, or don't want to. In May and June on the high plains with 40kts or greater shear and CAPE 3500 or greater with nice upper dynamics involved, experience tells me that giant hail under or immediately downshear of supercell updrafts will be likely, so I'll back off. If I'm out of position, then I will either a) photograph the backside of the storm and approach with extreme caution or B) just cut my losses and intercept another storm if I can. There's always going to be other supercells and tornadoes to photograph where I could be in much better position without risking serious damage or even injury due to giant hail and/or very dangerous winds. So I answered "Always try to stay away".
I, myself love hail. There are several other chasers I've met who love hail. You know who you are:) Anyway, I do enjoy hail, but I will steer clear of a hail core if I believe or have heard its throwing down hail as big as, or larger than baseballs. Weve gotten into hail on numerous occasions since we started chasing in 2002. The worst experience we had with hail was a night chase we did near ICT late last May 22nd. Storms fired to the northeast of ICT around 11pm, so we headed out to do lightning photography. We were on the storm for about 15 minutes when more storms began exploding all around us. We got into hail core three times before we finally got back to ICT. We were regularly hit with golfballs, but were also hit by hail up to baseball size, as there is a huge dent in the side of our chase vehicle.
I used to want to get destroyed in giant hail when I was younger, because I'd never been in anything larger than golfballs. Eventually (and before it ever happened) I got over this desire. Then came May 12 last year. While it was crazy fun getting pummeled into oblivion by baseballs, it left me with a car that I couldn't continue the chase with. I missed out on all the late day supercells/tornadoes that I could've easily been on, as we were in Floydada vacuuming out glass for twenty minutes, with three different tornadic sups in all directions just thrity minutes away.

May 12 was not intentional for us, but it was fun and it was an experience I think every chaser should have once in their careers. From this point I think it boils down to two types of chasers: the ones who seek it again and the ones who don't. I'm of the latter persuasion. I'm a tornado guy, and busted glass and knots on my head aren't the way to get them. Another aspect is I'm a poor SOB, as my still-busted windshield attests. All of my 2006 chases have at least one video scene looking through a busted windshield, which is kind of cool considering the May 12 chase will be on the same DVD at the end of this year, and will give viewers the answer to "how did that happen?"

As far as putting pics online of busted windshields, I have no problem with it. I put chase accounts and images online to tell the story of the chase; with so many different opinions and personalities in chasing, I can't worry about trying to send the right message or pleasing everyone, because it's impossible. I post the images I want on my site, and leave interpertation up to the viewer.
I'll punch storms if I have to (and have on occasion: June 12th - Mulvane comes to mind), but I've only seen golfballs once. Call it a bit of luck and a bit of planning. Don't get me wrong.... I love giant hail, but from a photography standpoint, I can't do much other than take post mortem pictures.

Hail is my favorite form of severe weather behind tornadoes. I enjoy getting into it when I can. Normally judgement kicks in and I typically stay out of anything which is going to start to shatter glass. I would never intentionally punch the core of a storm if I knew there was a good chance it would shatter glass.

However, circumstances yesterday prevented me from making a hasty escape which ultimatrely lead to the events which transpired for me in Seminole. Because I was in a rental and had the damage waiver, I was less inclined to make an immediate escape. While I didn't punch the core on purpose or make any attempt to intentionally get in there, once things began, I held back, and paid the hefty price.

So normally I would definately avoid such encounters, but since I was well covered and alone, yesterday was definately an exception rather than the rule.
Good topic. I like all angles of chasing I guess. I really like structure so I often have a hard time pulling myself closer to "experience" the storm. One thing that seems to be true about storm structure is it is often the best in or very close to the vault and hail area. It can be nice just south of that area but really if you want the best angle for structure you'll often be playing with hail unless you give yourself some east distance.

Now it seems I want to get everything from the storm. I'll get some structure and then get an urge to go sample a core. If structure starts to fade I'll let the core overtake me. I'm not biased any one dirction with about anything related to chasing(minus chasing alone I guess).

6 of my 10 chases this year included being in hail and all could have been easily avoided. A couple had more than one encounter. I actually am looking for huge hail because I really don't have any video of good stuff yet. If it takes trashing all my windows, oh well, I'll get over it. If there is shelter around I'll use it though! I just really loved some of the video from May 12 05, especially Mickey's. That video really captures a storm and I just love it. To me storms aren't just about beautiful structure but equally as much about the severe weather that comes along with it.

I have a hail motivation this year and I can't wait to see what it gets me.
Mike H pretty much summed up what I would say about large hail and chasing. I love hail and I certainly won't "avoid" the core if there is not much else to the storm. I haven't been in any extremely giant hail while chasing (> 4" inches), but have gotten plenty of golfballs and baseball sized since 2003 (I think I've done 40,000 miles so far). So far, there is only a few minor dents from large hail (2" inch hail on 3-30-2006 in southcentral KS) on my new Mustang, but I am sure that will change by the end of the season LOL. I love hail next to tornadoes and structure, so yeah, I certainly don't avoid big hail.
I try to stay away from large hail if at all possible. If it means breaking off the storm or a possible tornado, I will do it. I have been caught in baseballs one time at night near Vega, TX and it was not fun at all. I am a big lover of hail too, just not while it's falling! Now if I had the money to spend on new windshields or a totaled vehicle, I wouldn't care if I got caught in huge hail.
I try to stay away from large hail if at all possible. If it means breaking off the storm or a possible tornado, I will do it. I have been caught in baseballs one time at night near Vega, TX and it was not fun at all. I am a big lover of hail too, just not while it's falling!

Amen, brother! Its just the sickening part of chasing, hail sucks! I watched Tony's video this morning and just got that awful gut feeling, I know it was a rental, it just plain stinks!
If I had a vehicle I built for hail, thatd be completely different, Id almost want hail to hit it every time.
It all goes back to our love affair with our cars!

I have gotten into baseball size hail a few times when core punching. I have also got pounded a couple times by accident. Luckily I drive a Jeep and the windshield is nearly vertical so it won't break very easily(my hood hasn't been so lucky). I try to get in close when chasing so a few dents are inevitable, but I avoid it when I can.
I've personally never encountered hail larger than quarters, and that was kind of fun just because of the novelty of it all. I don't know if it sounds strange to anyone here, but I think hail falling on the roof makes a damn fine sound! ;)

Baseball and grapefruit-sized stones are really something I'd rather avoid, though. When you're far away from home, it can really put you out of the game, or at least cut it short.

I personally don't like to drive through hail and I do everything to avoid it at all costs for a few reasons:

One ... I like my car ... it's a beat up old Jetta ... I'd really hate to have my car dented seeing that I value the wealth of my car and the money/memories I've put into it. Plus 2WD ... when a road becomes hail covered you have to slow way down, or at least I do. Plus when I move up in the world I hope to turn my Jetta in for some return ... be nice to have some additional cash for a new car. I think in the future I'll have a nice 'beater' car ... like a run down Ford truck from the 70's with A-track. (Noteworthy history: My father owns a TR-6 and a nice looking 2004 Corvette, Mother an Acura RSX-S, friends who work in rental companies and are mechanics as well ... waxing, detailing, maintaining always surrounds me ... guess it's in my blood)

Two ... hail in my opinion is a precursor towards an accident. Having to shield yourself from hail crashing into your windows, glass flying, while keeping your attention and your eyes forward to focus on the road ... personally I'd rather avoid hail not only for the safety of myself and other people in my car, but also for the safety of other drivers. I guess that comes from having a first hand experience of a hydroplaning accident.

On a lighter note:

Now Tony Laubach did a smart thing ... get a damage waiver then beat up a rental ... better not smile when you are explaining this to the rental office on what happened to the car. I have several friends in the rental business and seriously (wink wink) this is a good way to go ... for in insurance terms hail is "an act of God."
I've personally never encountered hail larger than quarters, and that was kind of fun just because of the novelty of it all. I don't know if it sounds strange to anyone here, but I think hail falling on the roof makes a damn fine sound! ;)

LOL, small hail and larger hail up to the size of about 1 to 1.25" makes a damn fine sound, I'll have to agree! Increase the diamater, though, by two or three times.... and it's a whole other sound. I can't exactly explain it, but its only happened to me just once, but I remember the sound vividly. It literally sounds like someone is taking a sledge hammer to your vehicle. Now *that* is*not* a damn fine sound! ;-) It's a rather disturbing sound quite frankly.
Although I love the sounds of large hail and the sight of huge stones bouncing when they hit the ground, I try to avoid it almost at all costs.

A broken windshield or windows will end a chase early, or at least severely delay it. It might even cause you to miss the next day or two of storms. Broken glass is not going to be fun to deal with, especially if it gets in your eyes, mouth, hair, clothes, seats, floor, and gear. Replacing the windows could easily run over $1000, a big financial hit that I would rather put toward another week of chasing. If you have a small deductible on your insurance, you're paying higher premiums throughout the year so in a sense you've already paid for it.

Nowadays I will only risk driving into hail if 1.) the chance for car totalers are small, and 2.) the potential reward on the other side is very big. Hill City last year was one example. Even at Hill City I would have turned around if we started taking baseball or softball hits. We were also far enough north of the meso that I thought we'd be north of the biggest hail.

Even so, sometimes getting into large hail is purely an accident and there is a chance it could happen to me. That said, this year I already have a cracked windshield due to non-chase related rock hits from coal truck tires. So, I won't mind if it gets broken by hail. It will have to be replaced sometime anyway before my next inspection.
I agree also, i love all aspects of chasing but i have to say i do love hail, i try to get into it , usually im dealing with small hail to golfball... although when it comes to baseball and what not i havent been in the stuff to get the feeling of liking that size, the videos just show you some scary stuff and what not, but also thats got to be one hell of an adrenaline rush ;-) , either way as of right now anything as big of baseball size or larger...count me out"
I really like hail, but we usually stay away from the really big hail (the biggest I have seen is golfball). We don't have the money to pay for damage to our car. If we can find shelter then we do let the storm hit and hope that there is some hail. Maybe we will see larger hail and not lose the car this year. :D
I usually try to avoid the hail. I fear a window being broken and having my stuff get soaked. Most of the time if this would happen my electronics would be open to the elements. I do have a pelican case for a camera or two but not much else. Plus the broken glass factor, I know all to well the dangers of it. I cut a tendon on broken glass in a lab. Finally my chase season would probably be over because I've have to end up paying for it all, on a college budget. My concern for hail would change more if I had more water protection for the equipment and lots of $$$. I don't see that happening any time soon so till then I guess I'll have to be happy with the structure.
Well, I enjoy hail falling on me when I'm in a structure; less so in a car. I moved from Denver before fulfilling a personal fantasy: being in DIA's main terminal for a big hailstorm. I bet that place is some drum!

I see large hail as more a chase hazard than a chase target. I am uninclined to corepunch unless I am confident about doing so safely and there's a nice reward on the other side, such as a structure shot, a tornado, or personal safey :D I can't afford window damage on the road; that would usually mean chasecation over. I am sure I'd approach hail differently if I lived in the Alley and had a beater chasemobile for hail sampling purposes, especially since such a vehicle might often be sampled by hail in non-chase modes, like parked.
Having to shield yourself from hail crashing into your windows, glass flying, while keeping your attention and your eyes forward to focus on the road[/b]
When encountering car crunching hail, one should consider waiting it out while STOPPED.
On a lighter note:

Now Tony Laubach did a smart thing ... get a damage waiver then beat up a rental ... better not smile when you are explaining this to the rental office on what happened to the car. I have several friends in the rental business and seriously (wink wink) this is a good way to go ... for in insurance terms hail is "an act of God."

Allow me to defend that by saying I had rented a vehicle for the purpose of traveling to Midland for my Dad's wedding. This was done a couple weeks in advance of this trip. While I knew chasing was a distinct possibility (Its Texas AND its May), it wasn't my intention to rent the car for the purpose of totalling it. In fact, I signed for the damage waiver at the very last second as the salesman was obviously trying to make more money out of me by lowering the daily price of the coverage a few bucks a day. His last words; "just in case you get into a hailstorm or something". Its then when I looked at the sunroof and said, "ya know, you're right".

However, since chasing opened up and did happen, I will definately admit to being a bit less inclined to avoid the hail situation. Obviously I didn't intentionally mean to total the car as when golfballs starting to fall, we were preparing to get out of there. We then heard reports of bigger hail in town, thus we stayed put thinking the worst was to our east and would pass. We all know what happened next.

Of course, being in a covered rental, I didn't lose my mind seeing as the car being totalled wasn't mine. And while it was exciting and made for some great video, I will end up paying an out of pocket price in the form of glass shreadings. That back windshield ended up all over the interior of the car; glass in shoes, clothes, camera cases, etc. While the clothes will be fine, I elected to replace my aluminum camera case cause of the incredible amount of glass which ended up in the case. Some was even drilled in as stones eventually came straight in landing on the backseat and case. Fortunately, the gear was left unharmed.

So while your comment was meant lightly, and I'll fully admit to cracking a rather big grin upon seeing the remnants of the car, I certainly do not endorse getting a rental for the purpose of crashing it out. But if you are going to chase in a rental, DEFINATELY get that waiver. It was the best $45 I have EVER spent!
Certainly like this topic as well...I try to avoid the nasty hailcore and position as best I can to have a view of the tornado and yet be removed from the cascade of baseballs and softballs. This sometimes gets completely thrown out the window though when those rogue hailbombs come launching from the updraft. The Chillicothe MO supercell (April 18th) was one of those such hail slingers. I agree that sometimes things are unavoidable and you find yourself getting pummeled. Just better hope that shelter is available nearby. Loss of the windshield is pretty much the end of the chase. For those that are "hail barons", it would be very wise to bring sheets of plexiglass and duct tape, and maybe some spare headlights!!
Hail is a very interesting severe weather phenomena, for sure. But I personally don't like hail because my dad is a farmer and we've had hailstorms destroy our crops and wipe us out financially for years in the past. Probably the worst one was July 19, 1997, the beginning of what us Coloradoans have come to know as "The Monsoon from Hell".
About 2:30 in the afternoon a vicious, purplish black HP supercell rocketed out of the northwest and dumped 5 1/2 inches of rain in 45 minutes, accompanied by quarter size hail driven by 80 mph sustained winds with gusts over 100 mph :blink: . I think that storm was the closest thing to a hurricane you will ever see in the High Plains. The damage was horrendous. The wind was so intense it drove water in under the windows on the west side of the house even though they were completely shut and locked. It completely flattened or flooded all his wheat and sunflowers. 9 years later we still haven't fully recovered from that storm. Then last year on July 15 we had another nasty HP back in on us from the north, spitting golf ball size hail for about 30 seconds and then shooter marble size hail for about 10 minutes, all driven by 70 mph winds. It shattered 50% of his triticale heads on what could have been a 60 bushel to the acre crop. Probably the most frightening(though not very damaging, thankfully) hailstorm we had was a midnight golf ball barrage that was clattering so loud on the metal roof on our house I thought a tornado was ripping the place apart. It lasted about ten minutes, but since it was coming straight down damage was limited mostly to our trees. What was weird about that is that the hail only fell on our place; it missed our neighbors only a quarter mile to the southwest. Typical Colorado weather weirdness. We've been lucky this far not to have had bigger than golfball size hail fall on our homestead or fields and no broken windows in more than twenty years, but that could easily change with one nasty storm.
My whole family has had bad experiences with hail. My dad went through a hen's egg size hailstorm/tornado in 1980 that blew out the windows on the north side of our house and plastered leaves on the the south wall of our living room on the other side of the house and caused a lot of water damage to boot. My mom lived through the July 1979 Fort Collins grapefruit + size hailstorm that killed a baby in its mother's arms and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to cars and buildings. One of the hailstones they recovered was 13 inches in circumference. The house her, her folks and sister lived in had tremendous roof/window damage and my aunt's Mercury Comet was obliterated (every window was shattered, it had 5 inch diameter/two inch deep dents all over it; one of the hailstones broke off one of her mirrors, and another partially caved in the roof; my mom said it looked like somebody had dropped a steel basketball on it. It was an insane storm, to say the least. :blink:)
So it isn't just me; my whole family has a strong dislike of hail, small and especially large. When chasing I try and avoid the big stuff as much as possible. Somtimes it's unavoidable, though. Since Colorado supes are such prolific hail producers I am always on my guard because they can go from producing quarters to producing baseballs or bigger in less than two minutes. So basically, I hate big hail, and unless I can't avoid I will. Besides, I can't afford to replace my windshield every couple of weeks. I'm just a poor Wexican farmboy (White Mexican), LOL. :lol: But if you get some dents, they're just "battle scars" you can proudly show off to your friends and tell them about whichever harrowing chase they came from. They add character to your vehicle, as long as the whole skin of your car doesn't have the lunar look. :rolleyes:
I love hail, just being in the midst of something so great and unique, makes me very excited. I also love the thrill of being around large hail.....but when windows gets destroyed....thats another story...
I love big hail, as long as I'm not in my wife's vehicle. ;)

Here is clip from the April 5, 2003 monster hail machine. We were in Eric Nguyen's van, it had a overhang hail grill to protect the front windsheld. As you can see the grill worked perfectly, not a single crack after being in baseball to softball hail for more than 30 minutes. I can't say the same for the side windows.
Giant Hail

Scott Currens