Our February 23rd major weather event in Rocklin, California was one for the record books! Frozen precipitation of some kind fell from the sky onto our town for minutes. (We have incredibly low standards for our record books.)
While the storm was no doubt unusual, it was also very confusing. You notice I didn’t say that snow fell from the sky, although, many people swear that’s what happened. Others aren’t so sure. They say the Inuit people have more than fifty terms for different kinds of snow. Rocklin is currently giving the Inuit a run for their money.
Almost immediately after the minutes of winter wildness, we began to hear the term “graupel” pop up in our various news feeds. Graupel is, of course, when a snowflake falls through a layer of air containing supercooled water droplets. This causes those water droplets to “rime,” or instantly freeze onto the snowflakes.
“What the hail are you talking about?” you might be asking. No, I’m not talking about hail. That particular phenomenon occurs when rain drops get carried upward by crazy-ass weather inside thunder clouds, to a higher, colder elevation, where they freeze and grow until they are too heavy for the updraft, then fall to the earth and destroy your car, if you live in Texas.
Graupel – which rimes with either “apple,” “topple,” “lapel,” or “Inuit.” No one is sure – is not solid ice and dangerous as hail. It’s crunchy and fun. If you are having trouble envisioning what graupel looks like, it might help to know that the name comes from the German word for pearl barley, so that should clear it up.
But, I’m not at all convinced that what we experienced wasn’t just regular old snow. When I ran outside to enjoy the frozen water of some variety falling from the sky, it was definitely mixed with rain. I was wearing a black long-sleeve shirt, so it was very easy to tell that half of what was falling on my arm was plain old rain, and the other half was frozen water.
I could not readily distinguish if the snowflakes had been rimed into graupel or not, but they did look a little weird. We were told in no uncertain terms, however, that it was not sleet. That’s because no one knows what sleet is. Not even the Inuit.
One thing was for sure. It wasn’t cold enough at ground level for any of it to stick. And it certainly didn’t get cold enough overnight for any of our atmospheric water droplets to rime into hoar frost, so that was also a win.
Since our exciting hoarless rimed graupel morning here in Rocklin, another slightly more significant weather event has developed. Winter storm Quest, already in a state near you, has since deposited somewhere in the neighborhood of seven feet of new snow in the Sierra Nevadas.
About an hour east of here, the main interstate highways have been closed down for the better part of three days now with near-constant blizzard conditions. If your online order is delayed, you no longer need to wonder what happened to it. Your Amazon package has been flash-frozen in a 55-foot trailer on the side of I-80 somewhere. Please be patient.
It has been wild up there. The power had been knocked out by the storm, but I finally got a call through to our favorite ski resort yesterday, because I was very curious. I asked them to go out in the blizzard for me and see if they were experiencing any graupel with the other types of snow.
They told me to go to hail.
See you soon,
Copyright © 2023 Marc Schmatjen
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