East Lansing Sees Hail

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Sunday, October 5, 2014, 8:36 am
Aron Sousa

It hailed briefly in East Lansing on Saturday, October 4. Hail is an icy precipitation common in big thunderstorms. Hail is made up of falling layered balls of ice that are produced in cumulonimbus clouds that contain strong updrafts. The upward movement of air within the cloud is called an updraft and is a feature common to tornados and hailstorms.

In a hailstorm, droplets of water are lifted by the updraft higher into the cloud and into colder air. The water droplets cool and freeze solid around very small particles like dust. Once frozen, a droplet is called a hailstone, and it will continue to ride the updraft through the cloud. As the hailstone moves through the cloud, it passes through areas with varying amounts of water (humidity).

In areas with mostly water vapor, a white frost forms on the hailstone. In areas of the cloud with water droplets, a clearer ice forms as the hailstone runs into and sticks to other water droplets. If you cut a hailstone in half, you will see layers of whiter (more opaque) and clearer ice from the different zones of the cloud.

The stronger the updraft, the longer the hailstone is the cloud, and the larger the hailstone grows. Interestingly, hail does not happen in freezing weather. For a cloud to form hail the temperature has to be warm enough in the cloud for water droplets to form without freezing immediately into snow or sleet.

Photo courtesy of NOAA.

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