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How climate change is leading to bigger hailstones – BBC.com

A 2019 study by the Institute for Environmental Studies in Amsterdam showed that more solar panels means more hail damage. An EU initiative is aiming to have a million zero-carbon homes by 2023 and solar is becoming much more common, but the researchers noted there is a lack of rules and standards to ensure panels are hail-resistant. Destructive hail triggered by climate change may destroy solar panels meant to counter climate change. 

Hail damage also erodes wind turbine blades, pushing up maintenance costs and increasing energy losses from wind farms. This is because the leading edge of the wind turbine has to be highly aerodynamic, slicing through the air with minimal resistance.  

The edge is typically a curved glass-fibre-reinforced polymer laminate with a brittle polyurethane-based coating. Even rain wears away at this edge, but hail has literally more impact, and repeated strikes will crack it. Any damage to the blade affects airflow and increases drag, making the turbine less efficient. A 2017 Danish study suggests hail damage can be reduced simply by stopping the turbine blades during extreme weather events to reduce the speed of impact.  

While more big hailstones may be coming our way, damage is not necessarily inevitable. One option is issuing hail warnings to affected areas. In South Africa insurance companies already send text alerts warning of hail, giving people a chance to get their cars or other property under cover. 

Hail netting made from monofilament polyethylene can protect vulnerable fruit such as apples and grapes, catching all but the largest hailstones. Similar netting is now also installed at some car dealerships in the US – a sector which, Brimelow notes, accounts for a significant proportion of hail insurance claims.  

A 2021 study led by Leila Tolderlund at the University of Colorado also highlighted the potential for green roofing as hail protection. This consists of a waterproof membrane with a thick layer of soil planted with vegetation. Green roofs provide insulation, reduce heat in summer and absorb CO2, but they also turn out to be excellent hail armour. The study found that in a simulated severe hailstorm, all the non-protected 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 is too early to tell exactly where hail damage will occur in future. But it’s clear from his work and others that the really big stuff is likely to still keep hurling down at us. All we can do is prepare, and find a decent shelter.

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