'The Hail is That?

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By Quincy Vagell on January 19, 2012, 12:00am

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We all know those people that start screaming, "it's hailing!!!" whenever icy clumps fall from the sky during the winter season. The truth is, the precipitation they're talking about is most likely not hail.

Ice Pellets / Sleet

When rain drops freeze on their way down to the surface, this is called sleet. How cool is that? Literally so cool that the raindrops become a solid on their way down.

This precipitation forms when there is a relatively deep layer of cold air near the ground, causing the freezing to occur.

As sleet falls down, it tends to bounce and makes a familiar "ping"-like sound.

The next time someone tries to tell you it's hailing in the middle of January in Connecticut, tell them they're full of sleet.


What the heck is that?

This term is not commonly used, but is actually the more technical term for a different type of precipitation.

The picture above is of graupel. Graupel is when snow flakes collide with water droplets on their way down to the ground. They literally form clumps that appear white, but are clearly not regular snowflakes.

Graupel has been known to occur when temperatures are above freezing and it has been commonly observed in October, November and even April and May.

Snow pellets

Talk technical to me, Baby.

Snow pellets are essentially the same as graupel. The two terms can be used to describe the same thing, so take your pick!

Freezing rain

This one basically defines itself. When rain falls into a thin, cold layer near the surface, the droplets freeze on contact. If the cold layer is deeper, then the rain drops would freeze before they reached the ground. Ice accretion, from freezing rain, can cause trees and power lines to come down.

Other random facts

1. The typical water to snow ratio is 10:1...this means that 1 inch of liquid usually leaves about 10 inches of snowfall.

When it comes to ice pellets (sleet), the ratio is much closer to 3:1 or even 2:1. This means to get an inch of solid sleet, you need a lot of precipitation. This is why sleet storms are rare, but when one happens, sleet is a lot heavier to shovel than snow!

2. Hail can occur during cold months, but it is not very common in Connecticut. Hail tends to happen in strong updrafts, that would develop in spring or summer-time thunderstorms.

3. Can freezing rain occur when the temperature is above freezing? The answer may surprise you. Some surfaces freeze before others, so it might be 33 degrees, but rain could still freeze on some surfaces. Likewise, if the ground is 33 degrees, it's entirely possible for power lines or tree branches to be in a colder layer. Just because the ground isn't icy doesn't mean things above the ground can't be! Other elevated surfaces also freeze quicker than others, like bridges and overpasses. As a general rule, if the temperature is below 34 degrees and it's raining, use caution, even if it appears to be above 32.0.

4. On Valentine's Day 2007, a severe sleet storm impacted portions of this area. A few spots in and around New York City received 3 to 4 inches of solid sleet. Ouch!

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Quincy Vagell

Town: Marlborough, CT  

Reporting for WXedge since January 2012.

Articles: 875

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