The Himalayan Mountains have long kept a dark secret. In 1942, hundreds of human skeletons dating back to the 9th century were discovered around an upland lake in northern India. They had all died at the same time. But not until 2007 did scientists offer an explanation for their mysterious demise.
All the bodies showed similar wounds: deep cracks in the skull. Scientists came up with a stunning explanation. They were killed by cricket-ball-sized hailstones.
Incredible as it may sound, the story of ‘Skeleton Lake’ is a warning of what we might expect in the future.
As climate change warms the atmosphere, climatologists expect to see increasingly violent weather increasingly often. That could mean bigger hailstones falling more of the time.
Hailstones measure at least 5mm in diameter – smaller stones are sometimes called sleet or ice pellets. Hailstones with a diameter of 2.5cm (1 inch) or more can leave small dents in the bodywork of cars, or damage in roof tiles or house facades. In extreme cases, hailstones can be the size of tennis balls, baseballs or grapefruits.
This is one reason why hail damage to people’s homes could increase by as much as 50% by 2070, according to a study conducted by the Association of German Insurers (GDV). In the US, the insurance claims resulting from hailstorm damage increased 84% in 2012 from their 2010 level, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Hail can occur anywhere in the world. But there are certain regions that experience more severe or more frequent storms, especially between May and September: namely the US, central Europe, western China and northern India.