For Release May 14, 2002

A Hail of A Situation

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

Most people that know me know that Iím a real weather nut. I love winter storms with the snow and cold. Tornadoes and wind intrigue me, I find rainfall relaxing and lightning totally fascinates me. But hail is a different beast. I hate hail, I loathe hail, I just want to scream "Stop!" at the top of my lungs when it hails. I donít know why all the other weather extremes I find fascinating, and yet hail I despise.

Hail is ruthless. Lightning hits here and there, and while it can be a killer of people, animals, plants, and electronic equipment, it is very random. Likewise, tornadoes are such rare events that we seldom get to see true tornado damage. When we do, it is usually very isolated. Hail is ruthless, it can cover a broad area, it is totally indiscriminate, and it can virtually destroy everything in its path.

But I have to give hail its due credit. It is fascinating in its own right! The mere physics that create hail are incredible. If you consider how strong the updrafts in a thunderstorm have to be to create really big hail, it is even more amazing. Equally amazing is the damage that hail can cause and I am speaking just about plants now, although damage to personal property from hail can be pretty amazing as well!

Hail has three things working in its favor. It is hard, it has gravity pulling it down and it often has wind helping to propel it laterally. Naturally, as hail becomes larger, the potential damage becomes greater. But even hail the size of dimes and nickels can create problems for plants.

Any place on a plant that a hail stone can make a direct hit will result in a bruise or damage not unlike walking up to the plant and whacking it with a large stick. If this impact is on a thin bark area, then it will result in a bruise. A small area of bark will often be killed. Over the next growing season or two, callous tissue will develop to reestablish a bark cover over the injured area. Late in the year of the hail storm, or even the next year, you may notice numerous small little scars on a tree. If these are all on the same side of a tree, then you can assume that it was hail damage and the tree is doing all that needs to be done to heal the injury.

One of the problems that we are seeing from the April hail storm in the north part of the county is the loss of leaf buds. A lot of the leaf buds were swelling at the time of the hail storm. A direct hit on a bud by a hail storm would most likely knock it off the tree. Buds that are left will leaf out normally, but the tree has to make new buds to replace the ones killed. So when unaffected trees are leafing out nicely, the hail damaged trees will have sparse foliage that gives the tree a tufted look. Eventually, the new buds will develop and the tree will leaf out and look fine. In a large group of trees, you would expect to see more damage on the outer areas of the tree stand, with the trees in the center having less hail damage as they were protected by the outer trees.

Spring flowering shrubs and plants like iris and peony will also show some effects from the hail. Torn and bruised leaves should be expected and misshapen flowers and dead flower buds will decrease this yearís flower production. But if you keep the plant healthy, it should be fine for next year. Likewise, early garden plants will have been badly bruised and torn by the hail, but again, they should grow out of the damage, or you can tear out the stand and start over,

Hail is nasty stuff. It doles out damage indiscriminately and leaves us to pick up the pieces. But nature is pretty adaptive and while plants may be unsightly for a while, the long term damage should be minimal!


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