Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Thunderstorms With Snow - Yes, I Said Snow

Well today was a day that all meteorologists in Colorado live for - the weather has gone from spring to winter in no time flat.

In fact, as I sit and type this blog at roughly 5:30 pm, I am listening to soft rumbles of thunder and watching snow fall so hard and fast that I cannot see the interstate just behind my home.

On my drive from Boulder to southeast Aurora this afternoon I went from temperatures near 50 degrees and a mix of sun and clouds - to thunderstorms with sleet, graupel and snow. 

Some call graupel  - hail - and for the common man it is the same because both are seen from the ground as ice falling from the sky. But for a meteorologist - there is a difference between hail and graupel because of how each is formed.

The center of a hailstone is actually a super cooled water droplet that is carried up and down by the wind currents within a thunderstorm cloud. The longer it is suspended in the cloud the larger it grows. The ice is usually hard. Once the weight of the hailstone overcomes the forces of the wind keeping it suspended, it falls to the Earth.

The center of graupel is actually a snowflake in which super cooled water droplets condense on the flake. The ice is much softer than hail. We usually see graupel during winter storms that have a lot of dynamics going on in the upper atmosphere - such as with the dramatic spring weather -  where we see the drastic change from nice weather to rain to snow - all within a few hours or less.

You typically will not see graupel during winter storms that happen in the middle of winter when conditions aren't so dynamic.

I wish you could see the rate of this snow - if this was to keep up all night - we will easily be shoveling at least 10 inches - but more like 20 inches of snow from the area driveways and roads.

Something tells me this isn't going to quite be the March 2003 blizzard - but it will be one of the more memorable storms this season - just a gut feeling!

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