The hailstones began falling as a band was playing a set on a canvas-covered terrace at a local hotel, causing chaos at the venue, musician Sicus Carbonell told Reuters.
“There was chaos, with little boys and girls running around alone, some parents were able to grab their children,” Carbonell told Reuters. “Then a hailstone broke through the fabric … and I told my group that either we get into the restaurant or one of those tennis balls would land on us and we wouldn’t make it.”
Broken bones and bruising were the most common injuries caused by the sudden barrage. A 20-month-old girl was killed when one of the hailstones hit her in the head.
“We’ve had the awful case of the little girl who was hit by a stone,” the mayor of La Bisbal d’Empordà, Carme Vall, told Spain’s national broadcaster, RTVE, on Wednesday morning, according to reporting from the Guardian. “There wasn’t much that could be done for her and she died today. It was a terrible accident.”
Hailstones rarely kill or injure people, making Tuesday’s hailstorm in Spain highly unusual. Forecasts and warning systems usually allow people to take shelter, meaning most of the damage from hailstones is to cars and homes — and can be significant.
The hailstones that blitzed Catalonia on Tuesday were the largest measured in Spain since at least 2002, the Catalonian meteorological agency Meteocat tweeted. The thunderstorms that produced the hail were triggered by a cold front approaching Western Europe from the Atlantic Ocean.
Hailstorms can be billion-dollar disasters, pummeling roofs and smashing glass across a widespread area. In 2022, at least two hailstorms have caused more than $1 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Remarkably, those hailstorms hit nearly the same area — parts of southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin — just 10 days apart.
But dangerous hailstorms have caused deaths and injuries in the United States before. In 2018, a hailstorm struck parts of Colorado, killing many animals at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and injuring at least 14 people.
“One person’s watch exploded when it was hit by hail, and another got hit so hard in the head it dented their hard-hat,” the zoo’s chief executive, Bob Chastain, said.
Just three people are known to have been killed by hailstones in the United States, according to reporting by the weather blog Category 6 in 2020.
The deadliest hailstorm on record occurred in Uttar Pradesh, India, in 1888. Hail as big as oranges fell, killing 246 people and hundreds of livestock, according to a report in the journal Weather, Climate, and Society.
The largest hailstone ever recorded in the United States fell in Vivian, SD, in 2010. The hailstone measured eight inches in diameter and was a record 1.9375 pounds, breaking the records set in 2003 and 1970, respectively. The hailstone probably was even larger when it fell, as melting and sublimation caused the stone to shrink before it could be verified by the National Weather Service.
Some think that larger hailstones have fallen on Earth, though. A hailstone that fell in Argentina may have been up to 9.3 inches in diameter, meaning it would have shattered the record, had it been verified. The storm did produce at least one gargantuan, 7.1-inch stonewhich was safely stored away in a freezer for official measurements.
“The hail lasted 20 minutes. It was kind of scary,” Victoria Druetta, who grabbed the stone, said. “It hit and then exploded and then melted some. It was probably even bigger.”