A lot of us saw our first snowflakes of the season Friday (only October 12th??!?! Geez). Well, to be more accurate, many of us saw *graupel*!
What on earth is graupel, you might ask? Allow me to enlighten you!
Graupel is similar to snow. Graupel looks like a small ball of styrofoam (or those Dippin' Dots that you get at carnivals). Graupel forms when a snowflake passes through supercooled water droplets (or water droplets below 32 degrees). Through a process known as accretion, the droplets freeze onto that snowflake until it becomes more of a small pellet shape (unlike the classic snowflakes dendrite shape we are familiar with). This process often happens when there is some instability (or convection) within the atmosphere and the snowflake is lifted through the clouds, and through those supercooled water droplets.
I think it is nothing short of "so cool" because you can see the accretion on the edges of the original snowflake... (check out this link for more really awesome photos)
Graupel is often mistaken as "hail". Well, you're not totally wrong if you think that. Graupel is often called soft hail, but there's a difference! Graupel and hail are formed through a very similar process of that convective lifting and growth as it cycles through the clouds. You can easily tell the difference between the 2 by simply touching it! Graupel pellets will typically fall apart when touched or when they hit the ground. Hail, on the other hand, is harder, and often grows much larger and can cause pretty serious damage when it hits objects.
Graupel is typically under 5 millimeters, but some graupel can be the size of a quarter (coin). (Doesn't it look like Dippin' Dots?!?)
Hail typically ranges in size from small pea-sized pellets, to hailstones as large as grapefruits. Hail is especially damaging to crops (and sometimes windshields! see below)
Did you grab a cool shot of snow or graupel today? Share it with Fox 44's SHARE YOUR VOICE photo loader on fox44now.com (click to go there now)