Can You Eat Hail?
Hail can fall with destructive force but then just look like sweet little innocent ice cubes laying on the ground. Some people wonder if hail is as safe as it appears and also if you can eat it.
It is mostly just layers of ice, but hail can collect traces of dirt, pollution, and bacteria. You most likely won't get sick if you eat it, but it is not generally recommended.
There is no real need to panic if you have eaten hail, though it could be beneficial to take a deeper look into it.
The truth is hail has been found to contain thousands of different chemicals and several strains of bacteria.
As you probably know, our atmosphere is not totally clean, and precipitation can gather pollutants and microbes on their way to the ground.
While hail will most often not contain anything dangerous in large amounts, this is still something you may want to be aware of before you put it in your mouth.
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What Does Hail Taste Like?
It is ice falling from the sky, sure, but we seem to be more concerned about what it tastes like.
Hail will taste similar to a regular ice cube but can vary slightly based on what it gathers in the formation process. Like water from different sources will vary slightly in taste based on the different minerals present, so will hail.
Most hail will taste similar, but in areas of the atmosphere where there more salt particles or even ash in the air, it could slightly alter the taste.
In extreme cases, like when a thunderstorm meets a large plume of smoke from a fire, it can form black hail due to the smoke mixing with the moisture in the clouds.
I have never eaten dirty hail, but I feel it is safe to assume it may have at least a hint of ash flavor, especially if it is black.
What is Hail Made of?
Have you wondered if there any other ingredients in hail besides ice? Let's take a look into what hail is made of.
Hail is made of moisture from clouds that got cold enough to freeze into layers of ice. Although hail is almost entirely pure ice, it can pick up traces of chemicals while forming and also on the way down.
The rain itself, which is the beginning form of hail, actually has a dirty little secret of its own.
Water vapor actually needs the help of dust particles in the atmosphere to form rain droplets.
It is much easier for the vapor to latch on to dirt, salt crystals, ash, and even mushroom spores than on to other water vapor molecules.
That being so, rainwater is often considered safe to drink as there aren't usually enough contaminants to worry about.
However, hail can grow to be a lot bigger and could contain more contamination.
Does Hail Contain Salt?
There is salt in the atmosphere, so does that mean salt can find its way into hail?
Salt crystals can be found in rain, hail, and snow as they are found in the atmosphere and can help rain droplets form. This is more commonly found near the ocean.
It turns out salt crystals are nice and easy for water vapor to latch onto to create a droplet.
How is Hail Formed?
Now that we are deep in the subject of hail, you may be curious to know how it is made or formed.
Hail is formed when drops of rain freeze, usually within a thunderstorm cloud, and then fall just to be forced back up into the clouds by strong updrafts. As this ice is pushed back up into the clouds, it collides with more moisture and accumulates in frozen layers.
Powerful downdrafts and updrafts can keep this cycle going for quite a while until bigger hail is formed.
The hail will make its way to the ground when it gathers enough weight in ice to allow gravity to overpower the strength of the updrafts.
With extra strong updrafts, hail can be launched super high and even collide and freeze together with other chunks of hail.
The largest hail ever recorded was measured to have a diameter of 8 inches, which is about the same size as an average coconut.
Have you ever wondered about the amount of damage a hailstone that size can do? Well, hail that size can hit the ground at speeds over 100 miles per hour.
Hail is no joke, and if you needed a reason not to try and catch it on your tongue like snow, there it is.
Can Hail Kill You?
I am sure most of us have felt the impact of at least small pieces of hail, or maybe even nibbled on some. However, do people actually die from it, and if so, how deadly is it?
People have been killed by falling hail, but hail will not likely kill you if you eat it. Fatalities from hail are not common, mostly because it is rare that it gets big enough to cause real physical harm.
Most people can get out of the storm as hail starts coming down. It was much more devastating in the past when their shelter was less sturdy or not as widely available.
For example, in 1360, a crazy hailstorm contributed to the deaths of an estimated one thousand English soldiers and six thousand horses.
The combination of lightning, hail, and cold devastated the invading English army, which led to them surrendering that battle in France.
Is Hail Dangerous?
It is pretty rare to see large hail from hailstorms, and they don't often occur multiple times in the same area, so is hail really that dangerous?
Hail can be very dangerous for those who are caught without shelter during a hailstorm. Hailstorms that produce quarter-size or larger hailstones are considered severe and very dangerous.
There has been an estimated 4 hail-related human deaths since the year 2000. The rough estimate for people significantly injured by hail per year is over 20.
If you are ever caught in a hailstorm, you should, of course, seek shelter immediately. If you are caught in your car, you can try to find shelter for your car, or if you are not able to, it is best just pull over and stay inside it.
To properly answer the question, "can you eat hail?" it really comes down to necessity.
Some say that rainwater is very clean and maybe even purer than most drinking water, but that can be hard to guarantee.
Similarly, hail can be relatively pure, but why take the risk of consuming it? In my opinion, clean ice is just too widely available to risk eating rain, snow, or hail.
The safest way to consume precipitation in any form is to first boil it before drinking.
Here is to hoping that we never have to rely on hail being a direct source of water.