Freak storms across the east coast of Australia have damaged buildings and pounded cities with hail the size of grapefruit.
The largest hailstone ever to fall in Australia – a whopping 16cm in diameter – was recorded in Queensland after heavy storms hammered the Mackay region on Tuesday afternoon.
On Wednesday, a shopping centre in Coffs Harbour was evacuated after heavy rain collapsed the ceiling during a hail storm that battered northern New South Wales.
About 400 people were taking shelter in the Toormina shopping centre when water began pouring in through the ceiling.
One person who uploaded footage on Twitter described the hail damage as “unreal” and said the windshield of their car had been “smashed”.
Elsewhere hail blanketed the ground like snow.
A spokesperson for the State Emergency Service said it had responded to more than 280 calls for assistance on Wednesday afternoon, particularly at homes with skylights.
“We do expect that number to steadily climb over the next few hours especially as people arrive home from work,” they said.
“While we’re in storm season, it stresses the need for people to be prepared. We do see these storms can happen quite quickly, and they can be quite ferocious.”
NSW Fire and Rescue put together a strike force to assist the SES as a second storm cell headed for Casino.
On Tuesday heavy storms hammered north Queensland and the largest hailstone ever to fall in Australia was officially recorded.
Forecaster Dean Narramore from the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) told the ABC that the “dangerous thunderstorm” lashed the Yalboroo area north of Mackay leading to multiple reports of giant hail.
While many of the stones measured 12 to 14cm in diameter Narramore said a “very impressive” image had been sent to the BoM’s Queensland office allowing them to verify the 16cm reading.
“Some people had it taking up the whole hand, pretty impressive,” Narramore said. “We are talking grapefruit-sized hail.”
Giant hail is defined as any hailstone greater than 5cm in diameter and is extremely rare as it can only form under specific environmental conditions.
It begins as hail when warm, moist air rises into the atmosphere to meet a layer of very cold, dry air and the rain droplets created by the storm are frozen into hailstones.
The updraft created then keeps the ice in the air for longer allowing each stone to grow into giant hail.
These stones can be dangerous as they are mixed in with golf ball-sized hail and heavy rain which can harm those caught outside and quickly damage property.
“Straight through the tin,” Narramore said. “I have seen a couple of photos of cars where the hail has gone straight through the windshield. Once you get about 15cm-size hailstones you will start seeing this really bad damage.”
Photos and video posted to the Higgins Storm Chasing Facebook page showed the aftermath of hail punching through car windshields and denting solar panels.
Ian Leeson, a user on the page responding to an image of a fist-sized hailstone described it as “killer ice”.
“Get hit in the head with one of those travelling at terminal velocity and you won’t survive,” Leeson said.
A spokesperson for the Insurance Council of Australia said they were currently talking to their members who have a large number of policyholders in Queensland.
Hailstorms are often billion-dollar events as they can affect a wide area and cause massive damage in a matter of minutes.
Last year the Halloween hailstorm that struck Ipswich in Queensland caused $1.05bn in damage.