Hailstones cause major damage to cars and property

Posted: May 25, 2014

From his Chester Springs office, Tim Jefferis saw the hail start to fall from the sky in chunks Thursday afternoon, pummeling cars and causing passing drivers to seek shelter under trees. Then came the noise.

"It was crazy," said Jefferis, a vice president at Penn Liberty Bank. "We were waiting for the windows to break. It almost sounded like the water was coming through the ceiling. . . . I've never seen anything like it."

When the storm passed, Jefferis and his colleagues ventured outside to survey the damage, which included dozens of dents on the roof of his car.

Later, Jefferis learned he'd gotten off easy. Area auto body and repair shops have been swamped with hundreds of cars that were left damaged and undrivable by this week's sudden hailstorm, which included hailstones reportedly the size of tennis balls in some areas.

Those with damage to their cars or homes are urged to contact their insurance companies immediately. The state Insurance Department said Friday that it would allow out-of-state appraisers to speed property damage reviews as well as expedite claims processing and payments.

Walter Drag, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, said the region experienced several "supercells" on Thursday, which are extremely strong thunderstorms.

Thunderstorms are formed when rising air cools and condenses into rain, and hail develops when raindrops are lifted into extremely cold areas of the atmosphere and freeze into clusters of ice, according to the National Severe Storms Laboratory.

In addition to the hail, which hit hardest in Berks County, a supercell whacked Millville with hail and winds of 55 m.p.h. And a tornado was confirmed in Marydel, Del., near the Delaware-Maryland border. Two injuries were reported.

Officials said it was too early to guess at the extent of the damage. But nowhere was the storm more dramatic than in Wyomissing Borough, west of Reading, where the hail caused no serious injuries but battered hundreds of cars.

Marti Hozey, borough manager, said the skies darkened quickly before ice began raining down around 3:15 p.m., blanketing the ground.

"We were laughing at first, but then we realized how serious it was," she said. "I've seen hailstorms, but this wasn't even golf ball-sized. It was meatball-sized!"

About 20 minutes later, it was over, leaving shattered windshields and windows, and cars pockmarked with dents. Nearly every single township vehicle was damaged, she said, and almost everyone parked in the Borough Hall parking lot lost at least one window. Hozey's windows, windshield, and sunroof were all broken, and she counted more than 200 dents.

"When I got it to a garage, they said it would be weeks before they can fix it," she said.

At the nearby Berkshire Mall, shoppers and employees watched as hail smashed the skylights, landing on the floors. Ingrid Olsson, an administrative assistant, said hundreds of cars in the parking lot were damaged.

Steve Stoudt, who works at Stoudt Auto Sales in Reading, said the sound of the hail hitting the roof and cars was "like being in a war zone."

Stoudt said that 20 of the company's cars and trucks were damaged, and that he was unsure whether the insurance company would even deem them salvageable.

"We have guys who can come and fix a dent," he said. "We're talking about 50, 60 dents on a hood. I don't know how you'd even do that."

Hail of All Sizes

Hailstone size is estimated by comparing it to a known object. Most hailstorms are made up of a mix of sizes, and only the very largest hailstones pose serious risk to people caught in the open.

Here is a look at the sizes:

Pea: 1/4 inch diameter

Marble/mothball: 1/2 inch

Dime/Penny: 3/4 inch

Nickel: 7/8 inch

These hailstones are considered severe.

Quarter: 1 inch

Ping-Pong Ball: 1 1/2 inch

Golf Ball: 1 3/4 inches

Tennis Ball: 2 1/2 inches

Baseball: 2 3/4 inches

Tea cup: 3 inches

Grapefruit: 4 inches

Softball: 4 1/2 inches

The largest hailstone recovered in the United States fell in Vivian, S.D., on June 23, 2010, with a diameter of 8 inches and a circumference of 18.62 inches. It weighed 1 pound, 15 ounces.

Source: National Severe Storms Laboratory




Staff writers Anthony R. Wood and Tricia Nadolny contributed to this article.

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