Hail & Sleet

In earlier posts I have written that Germans tend to be more sensitive to the weather than, say, Yorkshiremen. They wrap up warmer and whinge a bit more when the weather is bad. They attribute all sorts of ailments to a being out in the cold or the wet for a bit too long. They keep their houses at a comfortable 21 degrees all year round and the doors and windows fit so there are no draughts. I worried that I was becoming a bit soft too.

I needn’t have worried, because Ariane isn’t going to let me go soft. A couple of days ago I had suggested driving to work rather than cycling. I thought this was a fairly reasonable suggestion, considering that it had snowed the night before and the temperature was hovering around freezing point. We have cars with heated seats. It could have been so nice. But she was having nothing of it and we cycled. It turned out OK because it was dry and we arrived at work rosy-cheeked and feeling ready to tackle the day.

Yesterday it was still cold, but the snow had turned to light rain accompanied by a strong, biting headwind. I did at least manage to wrestle one concession from Ariane – we would take the roads rather than the muddy forest paths just this once. So we put on our wet weather gear and headed off to work. At first it wasn’t too bad. Just a bit of horizontal rain in our faces as we slogged up the hill out of Schönaich. But as we picked up speed on the way down into Böblingen the rain switched to “Graupel” (a very unspleasant cross between hail and sleet) and got really heavy. Things had officially become grim. I had to cover my face with my hand and peep through a tiny gap between my fingers. It was the only way to protect my eyes, us not having got around to buying clear cycling glasses for bad weather days. Ariane had sunglasses on but still got a severe facial peeling/sandblasting treatment from the Graupel. And because it was so heavy it quickly passed through our “waterproof” clothes.

We got to work and put our clothes to dry on the heaters. Never has a warm office and a fresh cup of coffee tasted so good. Colleagues at work couldn’t believe that we’d been out on two wheels in such weather. Unfortunately we’ve raised the bar now so the next time there is a thunderstorm or a hurricane we can expect friendly abuse if we dare to use the car. It’s hard to believe that three weeks ago I spent a whole Sunday in shorts enjoying a picnic in glorious April sunshine.

Talking of weather, today I am going to a conference which is entirely devoted to hail storms – or at least the damage done by hail storms. From mid-May until September there is a risk of serious hail damage, especially in South Germany. In 2013 there was a storm nearby with some hailstones the size of tennis balls. That is big enough to smash car windscreens and in many cases actually result in the cars being written off. House roofs get smashed and the insurance industry has work to do. One of the services my business offers is an emergency hotline after such events which is why I am going to the conference. During summer there is also a so-called Hagelflieger (Hail Plane) which patrols the skies around Stuttgart. This plane is there to prevent severe hail storms by doing something called “cloud seeding” which involves releasing chemicals into threatening looking clouds in order to get them to rain, rather than grow into hailstorms. It is funded by the local wine growers, Mercedes and an insurance company. Nobody is really sure whether it works, but I suppose they are trying.

Seeing as my business profits from hailstorms, I would like to shoot down the Hagelflieger. Is that a bad thing? I tell myself that I only want golf-ball sized hailstones because they dent cars but not much else. That means we get lots of work, nobody gets hurt and the repair industry gets a shot in the arm. That makes me feel better anyway.

A few years ago, I looked up the road on a baking July afternoon and saw as expected a deep blue sky. Then I looked down the road and something was wrong. The sky was night-time black. I took a photo, but it didn’t look as spectacular as it felt. That’s what an approaching hail storm looks like. Half an hour later our house and cars were being battered by golf-ball sized hailstones. It was incredibly loud in the house and I did think that our dormer windows might be smashed. They didn’t but there was quite a bit of damage to the house and our cars took a good bashing. We’re insured so no problem – but quite scary nonetheless.

I suppose the one good thing about us cycling to work is that we have to wear helmets. I can’t imagine that something as insignificant as an approaching hailstorm is going to stop Ariane from making us cycle to work. But at least the hailstones will only be battering our bodies and the helmets should save us from severe concussion.

Today I get a day off because I am driving to the conference. What a relief. Now, let’s check the weather to see what Ariane will have to suffer. Oh, dry and sunny. Typical.

Bis morgen!

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