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The case for hail shields - why I'm adding them

This has been a subject of controversy in the past, so I thought I'd revisit this with a discussion thread separate from the build thread (https://stormtrack.org/threads/hail-shield-build-help.27271). This is actually from a blog post I have in my queue to be posted when I actually finish my shield rig. I'm just repurposing it here a little early.

After many years of halfway considering the idea, this spring season I will finally be chasing with a set of hail shields on my car. For the uninitiated, hail guards/shields protect glass windows, mirrors and sometimes headlights/taillights from large hail. No company makes or sells hail guards for use while actively driving (inflatable covers exist only for parked vehicles), so they must be custom built.

  • Supercells produce large hail. Most supercell thunderstorms observed in storm chasing produce at least baseball-sized hail. No further explanation needed on this point!

  • Hail encounters happen to storm chasers of all experience levels. It is true that accidental encounters with damaging hail are rare, and can be avoided most of the time by a reasonably-experienced storm chaser. But notice that "rare" means "it can still happen". I consider myself lucky to have avoided a truly bad hail encounter in all my years of chasing. I've had a few nervous tangles with large hail, but so far only one that has taken a window. No chaser is immune to a vehicle-totaling hail event, and I have to assume that one day my own luck will run out in that regard.

  • A multiple-window loss can cost more than a chase season. In 2013, wind-driven 2-inch hail broke my rear window, which cost $500 to replace. A typical outcome when caught in a higher-end baseball/softball hail swath is to lose the windshield, rear window and one or two of the wind-facing side windows. For my car, Safelite's web site quoted $1,434 to replace these windows (before taxes and disposal fees). A truly disastrous hail encounter that broke ALL of the windows (less likely, but still possible) would cost $2,600. For a minivan or SUV, those costs would be much higher depending on the size of the windows. I have heard of one chaser who had $8,000 in window damage on his SUV! In addition to windows, one also needs to consider rainwater damage to equipment and upholstery inside of the vehicle, and the potential for injury from shards of broken glass. Comparatively, the cost of materials of my sheild project is coming in around $200.

  • I don't claim storm chasing hail damage on my insurance. I have never felt like it is a good idea, much less ethical, to make an insurance claim for a hail-broken window that resulted from storm chasing. At most, I'd think you could do that once without consequence (raised rates or your insurer dropping you). Since that basically makes me self-insured for hail damage, and I don't have a bottomless chase fund, it's up to me and me alone to mitigate the financial risks. A hail shield rig ($200 cost outlay to prevent $1,500 or more in expenses) seems very practical and sensible to me. If the shield rig saves just my front windshield once, it's paid for itself.

  • Mitigating the hail concern improves chase positioning possibilities and safety. Now when I say this, I don't mean that I now will intentionally drive into softball-sized hail just for the heck of it. Please don't believe anyone who would suggest that! What I do mean is that *if* a situation arises where I *could* encounter large hail, I can proceed with confidence. If you've been chasing for a while, you know exactly what I mean - those situations happen all the time. It could be when driving south through the western/middle part of the forward-flank core of a supercell where some baseballs may be lurking. Or, it could be following behind a tornado with a hail-filled RFD on your tail (think of May 12, 2005: South Plains, Texas tornadoes event). Most importantly, this opens up ALL possible escape routes without the concern for hail damage being a factor of hesitation. If you ever need to bail where softballs may be, you can make that decision quickly and confidently.
To me, the low cost of the hail guards makes them a no-brainer and good investment. I wish I had added them years ago. I don't see them as a license to be reckless, but rather to add a strategic advantage and another layer of safety to my chasing.

With that, I close with Scott McPartland's video of the South Plains, TX event. Guards on his truck saved all but one of the windows from a merciless pounding of softballs!

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Dan, thanks for posting this. I completely agree with your reasoning. After considering this same dilemma for the last year, I have also decided to build a hail shield for my Toyota Camry. Fortunately, I have a friend that is very handy with custom projects helping me build it. Like you, perhaps I will post my progress on the linked thread you have above.
I too! :) I'm almost done with mine. No idea if it will work. Oh sure, it'll stop baseballs, but will it take 130mph winds?

Now wait. No, not the straightline equivalent of a tornado of what, F2? I'm talking going 70mph and being blasted, literally, by a semi-truck going the opposite direction. Two lane road going W with a 20-30mph SW wind and here comes the semi at 75 in a 65 zone. Man, I feel the hood is just going to lift off, so with a hailcage up top!?!??! Can also hit 120-150mph relative wind chasing. 70mph and a 50mph gust? etc

Mine is made of PVC pipe. Mostly 1/2". Rabbit fence mesh for the screen. 1" square gaps. Now watch a 0.99999" hard stone go right through and.... yikes. :p

I'll post an equip post later once done. (And works!) But I still want to tie the rig off with plastic coated cable from it down to the front hood mounts. A safety line in case 'snap'. At least the stuff won't fly off too far.

Mine consists of runners of 3/4" PVC that I bolted to the luggage rack. From this rectangular platform I have a front and rear 'panel' that fold down from the top. Suction cups to the hood and back trunk. I'll probably add side panels that fold over, but first test first.

I think the main things to be a concern are:
1) Road worthiness. Can it take high winds without breaking off like some mesonets I've seen on TV?
2) Does it protect well?
3) Can it be deployed fairly quickly?

Not again! :p 4daeb095df32437083690e72393d7a3c.jpg
Great video. I don't have hail guards, but you'll never hear a bad word out of me about anybody that does!
Just be careful. The hail guards can give you a false sense of security. This is like the false protection offered by lowering a vehicle. If the ground effects are disturbed by debris, it's lights out in a violent tornado. I used aluminum for my current hail guards. I cleaned the aluminum with alcohol before painting the outside surface. If you have tinted windows, screens will greatly limit visibility. The secret is to reflect the hail, not to try and stop it.
Polycarbonate = best.
It's also a good idea to make sure your automobile insurance policy will cover any damage. If not, you'll never get away with having a FUBAR windshield for long. Cops will cite you for a broken windshield. My advice is to spend a few hundred bucks on Polycarbonate (Lexan) sheets and some hardware to mount them to the vehicle. Lexan is 200X stronger than glass, it's also clear and will not obstruct your vision (a must for filming from inside the vehicle). I'm putting together a hailshield soon, I'll upload photos when it's done.
A few chasers have tried Lexan with mixed reviews. It's said that the material scratches and yellows/clouds fairly quickly with heavy use, and the "sail" effect of a solid sheet means you have to have very strong anchoring to prevent it from ripping off at highway speeds. I've never used it myself so I can't vouch for that personally, but that seems to be the consensus among chasers who have.
A few chasers have tried Lexan with mixed reviews. It's said that the material scratches and yellows/clouds fairly quickly with heavy use, and the "sail" effect of a solid sheet means you have to have very strong anchoring to prevent it from ripping off at highway speeds. I've never used it myself so I can't vouch for that personally, but that seems to be the consensus among chasers who have.

Very true, that would make sense. The only reason I brought it up was because it's very strong and isn't full of holes like the wire guards are. A 1/2" thick piece of Polycarbonate has been shown to stop a .22LR bullet so I believe it's safe to assume that it would offer maximum protection against hail. If money isn't an option and you don't care about replacing your safety shields every season, than Polycarbonate makes sense.

BTW, I talked to my uncle who works for Progressive as an insurance adjuster. He says that replacing broken windshields is covered by all policies that he knows of. For my situation, if I ever do find myself in the rare situation of hail destroying my windshield; it's much cheaper to just have Safelite replace it.
Dave, my current design includes lexan fold down panels for the side windows. I'll post a pdf soon with the details of the build. But basically, we're building a roof frame with front and rear window fold down guards. We'll use 1 1/2 in. aluminum piping with 1x1 wire fencing covering it. Then side fold down lexan panels like i mentioned.
My glass is cheap but since moving to Colorado I've considered adding a hail shield. It doesn't take much for a high plains storm to drop giant hail bombs and the road options often leave me in a compromised position.

*if* a situation arises where I *could* encounter large hail, I can proceed with confidence. If you've been chasing for a while, you know exactly what I mean - those situations happen all the time

If I ever do add a hail shield this would be the main reason. The "no go" hail risk areas tend to repel the chaser crowds as well so there's that bonus. But for all the times I don't proceed because of the risk of gorilla hail how often is gorilla hail actually present? Most vehicles I've seen with elaborate hail guards have few if any dents outside the shield from hail that looks large enough to take out windows so it really makes me question the value. I know a number of chasers who aren't nearly as hail-averse as I am who go many years and many tens of thousands of miles between losing any glass at all.
I think hail shields are the way to go for any serious chaser who plans on getting very close to intense thunderstorms. It may cost a good chunk of change, but as echoed in this thread, it's better than not being covered.

I was curious to do some research with auto insurance. When I was chasing on a Connecticut auto insurance policy for a number of years, the glass deductible was automatically $0, even if damages happened while on vacation in another state. Only Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York and South Carolina require free windshield repair terms with all auto insurance policies, but apparently other states in the Northeast will commonly cover glass replacement, including hail. My windshield was completely replaced three times in three years, no questions asked with no insurance increases. (Two events were from rocks and one was from hail, the latter of which was completely unintentional) States that are more regularly impacted by hail, particularly large hail events, do not have the same coverages. I haven't done a state-by-state comparison, but I bet the rates for comprehensive coverage (includes falling debris/hail/etc.) in Plains states are higher than those in the Northeast.

I would not advocate taking advantage of this if you live in a glass coverage state, as a string of events could eventually become a red flag. Georgia does not offer the $0 glass deductible that Connecticut did, but when I moved, I chose a low deductible with comprehensive coverage, should something happen.

All of that said, if you storm chase and/or drive long distances, there are bound to be times in which your windshield may shatter beyond your control, even if you avoid hail. This is an important reason to not scale back too much on your auto insurance coverages to try and save a few bucks. I also hit a deer in 2015 (beyond my control) and luckily insurance covered all except for a small deductible. I had a friend who is in the auto insurance business and she said that broken windshields and collisions with animals will rarely cause your insurance rates to spike, unless they become a regular occurrence. I can concur, considering four of such events (only was one hail) in three years had no affect on my rates.

Going back to the original topic, even if you don't "core-punch" or get intentionally close to large hail, sometimes a rogue hailstone can catch you off guard. When I was chasing Tipton in 2015, an isolated hailstone, only about the size of a golf ball, seemingly came out of nowhere and was just large enough (and/or hit at just the right angle) to destroy my windshield. I was several miles from the hail core, but winds were intense enough with the mesocyclone to fling a few random large hailstones a sizeable distance.
I've been chasing for years and seen my fair share of tornadoes. I don't chase as much as others but never had any problem with hail(knock on wood). Well, Rozel, KS tornado was chucking them around the meso but that's about it for big time hail for me. Some of it's luck, but a lot of it is how you chase. I don't core punch. I know what a hail cores look like on radar and in the field. If you know these characteristics of the storm you have a better chance at staying away from them. No ones perfect, but you can avoid dents/windows breaking without hail guards. With that said I don't condemn them at all. Need it, use it. My only concern would getting in a accident with someone that has guards on. Could make the accident more serious.
One important point to make about the use of the hail shield is its ability to allow you to get out of bad situations... even if you got into the "bad" situation on purpose (core punching or hook slicing). Some people have mentioned that if you chase strategically and avoid core punching, then you will most likely avoid hail hitting your vehicle. But, just like core punching allows you to possibly get a better view of a tornado, once you're in a tight spot, the hail shield may allow you to get out of it without much concern. I'm thinking of a situation where you don't even core punch: you suddenly find yourself with a limited choice of road options, and you have a tornado in one direction and large hail in another. A tough hail shield makes your exit route through the hail much less serious or intimidating.

I would also like to point out that any potential hail shield that uses lexan over the side windows will also protect from debris. My hail shield has 3/4 inch polycarbonate for side window protection. If I would have had that in El Reno, I wouldn't have had all my side windows busted out when I got caught going south on highway 81. So, getting into "good" positions and getting out of "bad" situations gives the hail shield a dual purpose.