IBHS Commemorates One-Year Anniversary Of First-Ever Full-Scale Indoor Hailstorm

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Historic demonstration based on three years of research.

One year ago today, researchers at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) made history by creating the first-ever full-scale hailstorm in a controlled laboratory environment during a test demonstration at the IBHS Research Center in Richburg, S.C.

“Replicating a hailstorm as closely as possible to what we observe in the field involved a great deal of creativity, scientific curiosity, and patience,” according to Dr. Tanya Brown, IBHS research engineer.

Engineers designed and constructed multi-barreled hail cannons that rained down approximately 9,000 hailstones (with diameters of 1”, 1.5” and 2”) at up to 76 miles per hour during the demonstration. The cannons were positioned on the Research Center’s catwalk 60 feet from the ground and aimed at a 20 ft. by 20 ft. residential-style test specimen featuring different types of roofing and siding materials.

“Creating the most realistic hailstones possible in the large quantities needed to conduct full-scale testing made this event so unique. It took our research team three years – based on laboratory work and tracking storms in the field – to get the process just right,” Brown explained. “We are very proud to have achieved this ‘first' at IBHS, and look forward to building on our unique capabilities as we get further into our research program.”

After many experiments to match correct density and hardness, researchers settled on two methods to make the hailstones. The first method compacts crushed ice into spheres; the second method is based on injecting liquid into molds. Using tap water, distilled water, and specific ratios of seltzer water, IBHS scientists achieved the desired hailstone densities.

Since that groundbreaking event, IBHS scientists have continued their hail research, exploring how various building materials, systems, and components are vulnerable to hail damage. The research involves small-scale testing in the IBHS laboratory that focuses on the size and hardness of hailstones, and how common building materials perform in their new states, as well as how they perform as they age over time.

In addition to the laboratory work, IBHS scientists have conducted field research over the last two years, and are preparing to deploy for a third year this spring. The team has designed instrumentation to measure the hardness property of hailstones, and also measures the size and mass of each stone.

“Understanding hail requires more than just developing theories. Going where these natural events occur and gathering evidence enables us to improve laboratory testing,” Brown said. “We will be tracking severe thunderstorms again this spring to record the specific characteristics of hailstones so we can create simulated hailstones in the lab that are as close as possible to what Mother Nature produces.”

“Hail is a persistent and significant cause of damage to homes and businesses – particularly to roofs,” said Julie Rochman, IBHS president and CEO. “The research IBHS scientists are conducting will help provide a clearer understanding of exactly how hail damages various building materials, as well as how to significantly improve risk modeling and weather forecasts.”

“At IBHS, we’re steadfast in our commitment to reducing property damage caused by hail and other natural hazards that exact a heavy toll on communities across the U.S. every year,” Rochman concluded.

Visit DisasterSafety.org for more information about how to make your buildings more resistant to a variety of disasters, large and small. Follow IBHS on Twitter at @DisasterSafety and on Facebook.


About The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS)

IBHS is an independent, nonprofit, scientific research and communications organization supported by the property insurance industry. The organization works to reduce the social and economic effects of natural disasters and other risks on residential and commercial property by conducting building science research and advocating improved construction, maintenance and preparedness practices.

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Kenya Woodard
Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety
+1 (813) 675-1053
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