Hailstones “as big as apricots” caught out hundreds of terrified motorists on Italy’s busiest motorway, smashing car windows and bringing traffic to a standstill for hours. 

The hailstorm, lasting only a few minutes, struck at around 3pm on Monday on the stretch of the A1 connecting Parma to Fiorenzuola, around 100 kilometres south-east of Milan, forcing drivers to stop in the middle of the carriageway as pellets smashed down onto windscreens. 

In some cases, side or back windows collapsed altogether, leaving car occupants fully exposed to the elements. The affected section of the A1 was closed northbound until after 7 pm, causing tailbacks of up to 9 kilometres, while damaged vehicles had to be towed away. 

Local authorities in Fidenza, the town that was worst-hit by the freak weather event, also reported being hit by a tornado and winds of up to 70 kilometers per hour (43mph) that felled trees and destroyed rooftops. 

Hail also damaged plantations of tomatoes, watermelons, beetroot and of other crops across the northern region of Emilia-Romagna, causing millions of euros’ worth of damage, according to farming lobby group Coldiretti. 

“There are some who saw ice pellets destroy up to 100 per cent of their year’s work in a few minutes, with tragic consequences,” they said. 

Italy is often prone to natural disasters, including floods and landslides, but experts say they are becoming more frequent due to the effects of climate change. 

Citing data from the European Severe Weather Database, Coldiretti said summer hail storms have more than trebled compared to last year, with 386 so far compared to 120 in 2020.