Baby Killed by Giant Hailstones During Freak Storm after Extreme Drought

A 1-year-old girl in Spain has died after being hit by an enormous four-inch hailstone the size of an orange, a local official said on Wednesday.

The toddler was struck on the head in the Girona province of Catalonia on Tuesday and was immediately rushed to hospital. She was pronounced dead from head trauma in the early hours of August 31, said Carme Vall, mayor of the town of La Bisbal d'Empordà.

"We've had the awful case of the little girl who was hit by a stone," Vall told Spain's national broadcaster, RTVE. "There wasn't much that could be done for her and she died today. It was a terrible accident."

The storm and its unusually large hailstones were filmed by people nearby. Social media videos showed the large hailstones raining down from the sky, creating huge splashes in swimming pools, smashing car windows and slamming into the ground.

Girona, where extreme weather event occurred, has been plagued by a drought for most of the summer.

Stock image of a severe storm. A freak hailstorm in Spain ended up killing a one-year-old, who was hit in the head with a 4-inch hailstone. iStock / Getty Images Plus

Hailstones are formed very high up in the atmosphere at very low temperatures when supercooled water droplets cannot remain liquid or gas, combine and freeze to form balls of ice. These spheres then fall to earth in a hailstorm once they cannot be held aloft by updrafts.

The speed of a hailstone's descent depends on its size. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, hailstones less than 1 inch in diameter travel between 9 and 25 miles per hour, whereas stones closer to 2 inches across fall at around 40 mph.

The hailstones from the Spanish storm, and the one that tragically killed the little girl, measured around 4 inches across. It may have been traveling up to 72 mph.

According to local news site Murcia Today, approximately 30 other people were injured during the hailstorm, with many victims suffering broken bones as well as cuts and bruises.

big hail
Stock image of hailstones as large as a tennis ball. iStock / Getty Images Plus

While enormous and incredibly dangerous, the hailstones weren't the largest ever seen. The record for the biggest hailstone ever recovered fell in Vivian, South Dakota, on June 23, 2010. It measured 8 inches across and weighed nearly 2 pounds.

People have been killed by hailstones of this type before. One dramatic example occurred on 30 April, 1888, in Uttar Pradesh, India, where over 230 people and 1,600 sheep and goats were killed in a freak hailstorm.

Hailstorms may get more destructive, and therefore more expensive in terms of property damage and loss of life, as climate change worsens.

"As the planet continues to warm, areas where hailstorms are favored are likely to shift," Julian Brimelow, a physical sciences specialist at Environment and Climate Change Canada, told the BBC. "An area now where sufficient moisture is a limiting factor may become more moist and consequently, hailstorm frequency may increase."

"We have in fact already seen evidence of this, with hail pad data in France indicating a shift in the size distribution of hail. Fewer days with small hail have been observed with warming, but there have been more days with larger hail."

According to The Independent, the Catalonian government has called this week's storm the worst in 20 years.