Weather & Wine: Hail Destroys French Vineyards

  • Aug 28, 2016

Historic Hail


Winemakers in the Pic-St-Loup area of France lost nearly all of their crop when a violent, fast-moving storm dumped golf-ball sized hail into their vineyards just days before the harvest. The heavy hail turned vineyard rows white and reportedly damaged approximately 60% of the 2016 crop in the area. 

hail accmulation

The downpour, which lasted only 30 minutes, devastated the region with total precipitation amounts ranging from 38-54mm, shown in the our radar alternative image above. Jermone Despety, head of the Chamber of Agriculture in the Herault region of Languedoc, said there were “few words” to describe the situation. A 92-year-old winemaker in the village of Lauret remarked that he “couldn’t remember a hailstorm as violent as this one”. 

Storm Severity

As the storm moved towards Pic-St-Loup,  Earth Networks detected the first storm cell depicted as an orange oval in the image below. The cell approached the vineyards at 12:33 pm UTC (2:33 pm France) traveling at a speed of 48.23 kmh.

cell alerts 1

High frequencies of in-cloud lightning strikes, represented by the purple bolts in the video below, were present as the storm ripped through the region. During a 2-hour period, Earth Networks Total Lightning Network detected 1,656 total lightning strikes; 1,608 of which were in-cloud strikes. In-cloud lightning strikes, while not directly dangerous to people and property on the ground, often serve as a precursor for other damaging forms of severe weather like microbursts and the hail seen in this case. 

The strong storm cells, represented by the red circles, moved south towards Montpellier quickly. The high frequency of lightning generated four Dangerous Thunderstorm Alerts. The first alert, generated at 12:34 pm UTC (2:34 pm France) measured an in-cloud lightning rate of 22.33 flashes per minute.


The highest in-cloud lightning rate recorded was 34 flashes per minute. More than 1,000 hectares of vineyard were destroyed in less than 30 minutes by the storm. Severe hailstorms of this manner are not common in this area of France.