Friday, March 22, 2019

Still Life with Robin: Graupel with This!

by Peggy Robin

Did you catch any of that wild weather we just had? Two days after the official start of spring, we get what’s essentially a winter thunderstorm, a nor’easter --call it Winter Storm Vaughn (which is what The Weather Channel has dubbed it). It blew through the Washington, DC region, and in just about an hour (three-something to four-something in the afternoon) it dumped a ton of graupel on our Northern Virginia suburbs.

“Graupel?!” I hear you say. “What the hell is `graupel`”? That was exactly my thought as I looked at the Capital Weather Gang’s description of the storm, which starts off with the line, “So much hail and graupel is falling with this thunderstorm squall line that it looks like snow in parts of the region...”   (posted on the Capital Weather Gang webpage at on 3/22/19 at 4:05pm).

Well, the first thing I had to do was look up that unfamiliar weather term, “graupel.” I know about hail, I know about sleet, and freezing rain. Hard to believe I’ve been watching The Weather Channel religiously, and am an original fan-girl of the Capital Weather Gang -- yet this is the first I’ve heard of this new weather term. When people make up lists of all the words that the Inuit allegedly have for snow, and then translate them into English, somehow I have never noticed  “graupel” among them. I would have remembered if I had! 

But it appears to be a real thing, in use since at least 1889, with a clear definition (per Merriam-Webster – click on the link below for the pronunciation):
Graupel (noun) grau·​pel: granular snow pellets — called also soft hail.

And here are two videos of the graupel falling in Arlington (first link) and Falls Church (second link), posted as tweets to Capital Weather Gang:

It may not have been fun to have a nor’easter with 50 mph winds blasting through town yesterday, but there’s always a little silver lining in any storm, and in this case, it came in the form of this nice little addition to my weather vocabulary. And that spurred me to look up other cold-weather-precipitation terms, and learn a few more, just in case the next nor’easter that comes to town brings with it some corn snow, or hominy snow, or rimed snow, or snirt. Look’em up – they’re all defined here:

But I sincerely hope we'll have no need to use any of these descriptors until the end of fall 2019 or later! That blast of graupel was quite enough for now!
Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland ParkListserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays. (OK, I posted this one a day early, on Friday 3/22/19, to tackle the graupel question on the same day it fell around here.)

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