What the Heck Was That?! Hail vs. Snow

In&Out Publications Staff Photo
Hail was bouncing 2-3 feet in the air in Anthem, AZ today, Feb. 21, 2019

FRIDAY UPDATE: Snow Falls in North Phoenix Amid Record Rain

Dime-sized hail fell from the sky in parts of the North Valley today as snow blanketed higher elevations. Since hail storms are rare here, let’s answer the obvious question: What causes big hail like that?

One big hint: Did you hear the simultaneous thunder?

Hail forms when a thunderstorm’s violent updrafts carry raindrops rapidly upward, where they freeze into little balls, or when already supercooled water drops freeze on contact with tiny ice crystals higher in a cloud.

The higher they go and the longer they’re suspended, the bigger hailstones can become, until they get heavy enough to overcome the updrafts and fall.

Sometimes the hail will get carried upward multiple times and develop layers, like an onion. If you could count the layers, you’d know how many times a hailstone travelled to the top of the thunderstorm.

Snow can also move up and down in storm clouds before it falls. But snow develops first as tiny ice crystals, which collide with other crystals that stick to form flakes that eventually succumb to gravity.

Most hail is the size of peas or marbles (I’d say we saw some marbles today). And yeah, that’s nothing…

“The largest hailstone recovered in the U.S. fell in Vivian, SD on June 23, 2010 with a diameter of 8 inches and a circumference of 18.62 inches,” according to the National Severe Storms Laboratory. “It weighed 1 lb 15 oz.”

Several people posted their view of the hail on the Facebook page of Anthem News and North Phoenix News.

SOURCES: NOAA; National Severe Storms Laboratory; “The Weather Book”


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Robert Roy Britt
NoPho resident Robert Roy Britt has written for In&Out publications since its inception in 2005. Britt began his journalism career in New Jersey newspapers in the early 1990s. He later became a science writer and was editor-in-chief of the online media sites Space.com and Live Science. He has written four novels. Email the author.
Robert Roy Britt on Email

Robert Roy Britt

NoPho resident Robert Roy Britt has written for In&Out publications since its inception in 2005. Britt began his journalism career in New Jersey newspapers in the early 1990s. He later became a science writer and was editor-in-chief of the online media sites Space.com and Live Science. He has written four novels. Email the author.

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