n 2010, a spiky ice chunk, roughly the size of a volleyball, fell from dark thunderstorm clouds above South Dakota to the earth. It's now been recorded as the largest hailstone ever recovered.

While that tidbit of trivia is a fun fact, there’s nothing funny about the damage hail can do to homes and cars, not to mention people who are caught outdoors.

From 2000 to 2013, U.S. insurers handled millions of hail-damage claims, totaling more than $54 billion according to the Insurance Information Institute. From 2010 to 2014, there were 154 injuries from hail storms.

Related: Prepare Your House for Winter Storms

How hail happens

Big hailstone(Photo: MarcelClemens/Shutterstock)
Hailstones form during thunderstorms as updrafts carry water droplets to higher, colder altitudes, where they freeze. While most storms drop pea-size ice pellets, the stones can grow to softball size or larger, weighing as much as two pounds in the case of the South Dakota record-breaker.

When a hailstone reaches enough mass, it drops, sometimes at speeds greater than 90 miles per hour, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). At that velocity and with enough weight, these icy masses batter homes, cars, crops and even people.

In 2015, the National Weather Service recorded more than 5,411 hail storms. Taking precautions when a storm approaches can help you avoid an insurance claim or even a trip to the hospital, especially if you live in Nebraska, Colorado or Wyoming. (The area where these states meet is known as “hail alley.”)

Related: Deadly Storms in U.S. History and What They Taught Us About Storm Safety

How to protect your car

Hail can nick paint, crack and smash windows and dent the body. If a thunderstorm's coming, get your vehicle into a garage or a carport. If you don’t have access to a garage, placing heavy tarps and blankets over the vehicle can cushion hail impact, according to Gerber Collision and Glass. The thicker the covering, the more protection you’ll have. Another option is to purchase a hail-resistant cover that can inflate within a minute or two.

Consider talking to your auto insurance agent about adding hail coverage.

Make your home hail resistant

You can't throw a tarp over your house, but there are a variety of products that can help your castle go toe-to-toe with hail. They include:

  • Impact-resistant roofing shingles. Hailstones can damage asphalt shingles, but there are more hail-resistant varieties, usually called Class 4 roof materials or modified asphalt shingles.
  • Impact-resistant doors and windows.
  • Storm and hurricane shutters that allow you to manually activate them when a storm approaches.

Hail mitigation technologies may reduce your homeowner’s insurance premiums. A renter’s insurance policy will cover your belongings but will also help pay for temporary living expenses should hail damage make your unit unlivable.

Related: Lightning Safety: What to Do During a Storm

Car with hail damageCar with hail damage (Photo: /NOAA)

Keep yourself safe

While U.S. hail-related deaths are extremely rare, injuries are not. About 24 people are injured by hail each year, NOAA says. Experts recommend you seek cover, preferably inside a solid structure. Pull down blinds and shades and close the drapes.

If you find yourself taking shelter in your car, try to find a parking garage or secure structure to park under. If your car is out in the open, cover your windows (or yourself) with floor mats, blankets, jackets or other items to prevent injuries from shattered glass caused by heavy hailstones.

Related: How to Survive a Dust Storm

Like this article? Share it with friends by clicking the Facebook or Twitter button below. And don't forget to visit our Facebook page!

Ronald Agrella is a freelance writer and former editor of The Boston Globe’s Boston.com.