Can you eat hail from the sky? Have you ever considered the safety of consuming hailstones that come down from the sky amidst a thunderstorm?
Although hailstones may appear similar to frozen raindrops, they are actually distinct in their composition and how they are formed.
Before indulging in the temptation of eating hailstones, it is important to take into account various factors.
So, is hail edible?
Hail is composed of frozen water droplets, but it is not advisable to consume because it may contain harmful substances and contaminants.
Understanding Hail Formation Process
Hail is precipitation that forms in the updrafts of thunderstorms and falls to the ground as ice.
Hailstones begin as raindrops that are carried high into the atmosphere by the storm’s updrafts where they freeze.
The frozen drop collides with other still liquid drops and the water covers the hail freezes adding a layer of ice so that the hailstone grows.
The new layer looks cloudy because of the air trapped inside it although if the ice freezes slowly the air can escape so the fresh ice will be clear.
Eventually, the hailstone becomes too heavy for the weakening updraft to support and it drops down to the ground.
During its descent, the hail will remain frozen for as long as the temperatures it meets on the way down stay below zero.
Where they don’t, the ice melts and falls as semi-frozen sleet rather than hail.
Can You Eat Hail from the Sky?
Hail is made up of supercooled water. This water, typically found high in the atmosphere, doesn’t freeze even when cooled below 0C.
And even though you may think you can eat it, it is better not to.
To transform into ice and make hail, the water drop needs a nucleus to form around such as an ice crystal or dust particle.
As water covers the particle and freezes, it becomes heavier and begins falling through the cloud only to be swept up again by the updraft which is stronger lower down.
The particle may fall to be swept up again and have more ice added several times before it gets heavy enough to fall through the updraft and make it to the ground as hail.
An Important Consideration
The hailstone has many layers but it is likely to have formed around an airborne contaminant.
There are many, including life-threatening organic and inorganic compounds, solvents and volatile hydrocarbons left over from the agriculture, industry and transport industries.
And due to these contaminants, it is not a good idea to eat hail from the sky.
Comparing Hail to Other Forms of Precipitation
Essentially, all precipitation is water so believing hail is safe to eat perhaps makes some sense particularly since people do eat snow and drink rainwater.
This is not always the case. The only snow safe to eat is snow that falls as frozen distilled water. It is lily-white and considered purer than tap water.
But it only happens after previous snowfalls have picked out all the contaminants and cleaned the atmosphere.
An Important Consideration
Although there is a movement towards making better use of rainwater, harvested rainwater is considered not safe to drink unless filtered and disinfected.
Its advocates offer evidence that drinking rainwater helps improve digestion by being at a pH level comparable to pure distilled water and is good for healthy hair and skin.
However, climate change research revealed how our reliance on heavy duty plastics has contaminated our atmosphere with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) advising that all rainwater is unsafe to drink.
Why Is It Not a Great Idea to Eat Hail from the Sky?
Many people think hailstones are not only edible but also nutritious because hail also contains carbohydrates, protein, sugar and fat as well as several species of helpful bacteria.
Unfortunately, the arguments for eating hail also add the proviso that it should be lily-white and could contain harmful chemicals such as benzene and cyclohexane.
Most air pollution has been caused by human activity and now we are considered to be beyond the safe zone having seeded the atmosphere with these long-lasting chemicals.
Here are the reasons why you should avoid eating hail:
Risks Associated with Consuming Contaminants in Hail
There are thousands of PFAS substances and they have made their way into the soil and water supplies so they often exceed levels that are considered safe.
What’s more, these microplastics cycle between the surface of the planet and the atmosphere continuously impacting all life.
Science is still discovering to what extent the atmosphere is polluted globally, but it is well established that air pollution is generally worse in big cities.
Storms carry its pollution, mainly from industry and transport, for hundreds of miles before dumping the contaminated precipitation far away from its source.
Fact: It's almost impossible to know what is being ingested, especially when the chemical emissions have had time in the storm to react with each other.
Choking Hazard from Larger Hailstones
The stronger the updrafts, the longer the hailstone can stay supported in the atmosphere and the bigger it becomes but a storm is classified as severe once it produces any size of hail.
There is no typical size, but they can be up to 4 ½ inches in diameter, the size of a grapefruit and an obvious choking hazard.
At a 1-inch diameter, hail is classed as severe. At this size it is still a choking hazard.
Not only is the ice supercooled and therefore very hard and slow to melt but it can also be sharp with jagged edges that reflect its journey through the chaos of the atmosphere.
Fact: You need to remember that even pea-sized, hail could easily obstruct a child’s airway.
Hail not only forms around man-made anthropogenic sources but also particles that are the result of natural events and processes, such as:
- Dust storms
- Pollen releases
These are collectively known as POPs, persistent organic pollutants.
They tend to attack the respiratory system triggering hay fever and asthma attacks and other respiratory issues when breathed in.
The agricultural industry also adds POPs to the atmosphere by using insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers so the levels of the organic chemicals are far greater than would be occurring naturally.
Fact: There are many kinds of POPs, and some are proven to affect the endocrine system impairing physical growth and cognitive development in children.
Expert Opinions and Scientific Research about Eating Hail
Although public opinion may be divided on whether or not hail is edible, scientific opinion is not.
The research concludes that we have already crossed the tipping point where ingesting precipitation in any form could be considered healthy.
The National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH), and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) have invested in extensive research to advance national, state and local public health in light of what they now know about PFAs.
There is mounting evidence of PFAs being present in the organs and blood supply of various animals including ourselves.
However, as technologically advanced as the US is, like the EU, they admit clearing the environment of PFAs would be almost impossible and far too expensive.
Fact: As long as PFAs cycle with water they will have an impact on the food chain and the global food supply for years to come.
Examples of Hail Consumption in Various Cultures
Although the situation seems dire, eating hail is not deadly and although not traditionally a dietary staple, there are people around the world who like eating it.
In China, it is enjoyed like a candy and Mongolians added it to fermented mare’s milk, like an ice cube is added to whiskey.
Hail can also be crushed into mouth-friendly pieces and used to make ice-cream or snow cones.
Hailstones have been featured in recorded history since the earliest times, usually because of the devastation they cause as a punishment from gods.
In the Islamic tradition many meanings have been attributed to dreams about eating them, mostly based on their size.
Fact: In 1833 at Bent’s Fort, a drink called a Hail Storm, allegedly made with real Old West hailstones, was added to the bar list.
Can you eat hail from the sky? Although it may be tempting to try eating hail from the sky, it is not a good idea.
Hail forms in the atmosphere under certain conditions and can pick up a wide range of pollutants and microbes during its journey.
In addition, some hailstones are so tough that biting into them could damage teeth.
Hail is a wonderful natural occurrence, but it is best appreciated from a safe distance and not eaten.