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What fell in Giles County Sunday night?

It was either hail or graupel, not sleet.

Photo Credit: Christina Blankenship - Pearisburg

PEARISBURG, Va. – As a line of heavy rain moved through parts of the region Sunday night, something else came with it in Giles County. 

You see the picture above, and immediately a few things go through your mind. It's either sleet or hail. Let's talk about this for a second. 

1. Sleet

Sleet will form when a snowflake falls into a warm layer of air, melts in that layer, and then re-freezes before touching the ground. This is different than freezing rain, in which rain freezes on contact with the ground. Because temperatures have been above freezing Sunday night, we can count this one out. It wasn't sleet.

2. Hail

Hail is just a piece of ice that falls out of a storm and to the ground. Simple as that. If the freezing layer is not too high up, there's less time for the hailstone to melt and it can be pretty small in size. This is a possibility as to what happened Sunday night.

3. Graupel

Graupel is not only fun to say, but it's an interesting type of precipitation to discuss as well. Graupel forms when supercooled liquid (liquid that is below freezing but has yet to crystallize into a snowflake) freezes onto a snowflake. When it falls to the ground, it looks like little Dippin' Dots. 

So which was it Sunday night?

To be honest with you, it could be either hail or graupel. To tell the difference in this case, you would have to pick it up. If it's soft and falls apart in your hand, it's graupel. If it just melts in your hand and is harder to the touch, it's hail.


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