Largest Hailstone in U.S. History Found

National Geographic News
August 4, 2003

It's official. The thunderstorm that pounded south-central Nebraska in June ended up leaving something for the record books: The largest hailstone ever recovered in the United States, a seven-inch (17.8-centimeter) wide chunk of ice almost as large as a soccer ball.

The National Climate Extremes Committee, which is responsible for validating national records, formally accepted the measurements last month: seven inches in diameter (17.8 centimeters) and a circumference of 18.75 inches (47.6 centimeters).

The hailstone was recovered in Aurora on June 22.

The committee included experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in Asheville, North Carolina and NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS). The NWS' forecast office in Hastings, Nebraska, provided the measurements.

"Were it not for the quick thinking of local residents, who found the hailstone and kept it from melting, we would have not known it existed," said Jay Lawrimore, who chairs the committee.

The hailstone is now at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, where it will be preserved indefinitely.

The old record for the largest hailstone had a diameter of 5.7 (14.5 centimeters) inches, a circumference of 17.5 inches (44.5 centimeters), and was found in Coffeyville, Kansas, on September 3, 1970.

The previous longstanding record was believed to be a hailstone which fell at Potter, Nebraska on July 6, 1928. It measured around 7 inches (17.8 centimeters) in diameter and weighed about 1.5 pounds (680 grams).

Lawrimore said in a statement released by NOAA that the Aurora hailstone didn't break the record for the heaviest hailstone. "It was hard for us to get an accurate weight for this stone because a chunk of it hit the gutter of a house and 40 percent of it was lost," he said. "Also we think some of the stone's mass might have melted before it was preserved in freezing conditions."

According to NOAA, large hailstones can fall at speeds faster than 100 miles (160 kilometers) per hour. They can sometimes contain foreign matter, such as pebbles, leaves, twigs, nuts, and insects.

Hail causes nearly one billion dollars (U.S.) in damage to property and crops annually. The costliest United States hailstorm: Denver, Colorado, July 11, 1990. Total damage was 625 million dollars (U.S.).

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