How climate change leads to bigger hailstones

A 2019 study by the Amsterdam Institute for Environmental Studies showed that more solar panels mean more hail damage. An EU initiative aims to have one million carbon-free homes by 2023 and solar power is becoming much more common, but researchers noted there is a lack of rules and standards to ensure that panels are hail resistant. Destructive hail triggered by climate change can destroy solar panels intended to combat climate change.

Hail damage also erodes wind turbine blades, increasing maintenance costs and increasing energy losses from wind farms. Indeed, the leading edge of the wind turbine must be highly aerodynamic, cutting through the air with minimal resistance.

The edge is usually a curved glass fiber reinforced polymer laminate with a polyurethane based brittle coating. Even rain wears away on this edge, but hail literally has more impact, and repeated blows will crack it. Any damage to the blade affects airflow and increases drag, making the turbine less efficient. A 2017 Danish study suggests that hail damage can be reduced simply by shutting down turbine blades during extreme weather events to reduce impact velocity.

While other large hailstones can happen, damage is not necessarily inevitable. One option is to issue hail warnings in affected areas. In South Africa, insurance companies are already sending text alerts warning of hail, giving people the option to take their car or other property to safety.

Monofilament polyethylene hail nets can protect vulnerable fruits such as apples and grapes, catching all but the largest hailstones. Similar nets are now also installed at some car dealerships in the United States – an industry which, Brimelow notes, accounts for a significant proportion of hail insurance claims.

A 2021 study led by Leila Tolderlund of the University of Colorado also highlighted the potential of green roofs as hail protection. It is an impermeable membrane with a thick layer of soil planted with vegetation. Green roofs provide insulation, reduce heat in summer and absorb CO2, but they also prove to be excellent protection against hail. The study found that during a severe simulated hailstorm, all unprotected roof surfaces were damaged, while those with green roofing remained unharmed.

There have also been attempts to predict the size of hailstones that might be generated by particular storms, but many of these lack accuracy. As Brimelow notes, it’s too early to tell exactly where hail damage will occur in the future. But it’s clear from his work and others that the really big stuff is likely to continue to come our way. All we can do is prepare ourselves and find decent shelter.

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