I’m a weather watcher, this is a well known fact. I have Environment Canada as my homepage. I have the Weather Network app on my phone, desktop AND tablet, I know how to quickly check the radar online, and my personal twitter account only exists to monitor weather and traffic. I’m the parent to call when trying to predict a snowday!
When my kids hear thunder or we get a freak snowstorm, one of the first things they think to say is, “We should check the radar!” I am clearly to blame for this!
But the reality is that I think weather is truly amazing. Although, we can’t control it, we can observe it (and as a Canadian, we enjoy complaining about it). You can imagine when a freak hail storm hit, it was like we’d won the lottery.
During the roar of the thunder and the flashes of lightening. I, being a dedicated (but not necessarily the brightest) parent, ran outside to collect hail. All in the name of science, right? The kids were totally freaking out because “when thunder roars, go indoors” is a very important lesson for everyone! I stayed close to the back door in case the storm picked up again and I knew the active part of the storm had already passed (I know this because we were actively monitoring the radar – no surprise there).
When I brought my collection of hail inside. The kids had a chance to check it out. It’s c-c-c-c-old, was the main observation. The other, was how they look like “almost” perfect little balls. This hail wasn’t the golf-ball sized ones you hear on the national news (thank goodness because that’s the damaging kind) but still large enough to enjoy and learn. According to The National Severe Storm Laboratory, we were probably at the “marble/mothball” size, which is larger than the “pea size” but smaller than the “dime/penny” size. How’s that for accuracy? (There was no time to find an actual ruler, the hail was melting too fast. Unplanned science doesn’t leave time for proper preparation).
Then the questions came from my children.
What is hail? Um… Little balls of ice, I guess.
Why does it happen? Um… um… um… I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t actually know. So we had to do our research (which is OK because that’s part of science!). Even grown-ups should learn new stuff every day too!
Does this mean winter is returning? I sure hope not!
Yes, during a hailstorm there is in fact ice falling from the sky, but it does not mean winter is returning. Actually, hail storms are fairly common in spring and summer. That’s because you need a thunderstorm, which is more likely to occur when the weather is warm. Phew!
Hail forms during thunderstorms in special clouds called cumulonimbus clouds. (Wow, that’s a mouthful.) Basically, it’s a really fancy way of saying storm clouds. You know the ones. The ones you see approaching and you instinctively run for cover. You may also hear the rumbling of thunder.
These clouds are rich in moisture (the rain in a rainstorm has to come from somewhere). If you were to travel deep inside these clouds you would find it a wee bit chilly. In this part of the cloud because it’s so cold some of water droplets will turn into ice crystals. This is the start of making hail.
These ice crystals will try to fall from the clouds, but instead they are swept back up inside by a HUGE gust of wind (the updraft). These ice crystals will again “chill” (literally) inside the cloud with another layer of ice being added. This hail, slightly bigger now, will start to fall from the clouds or at least try (again!). BUT WAIT! Another gust of wind pushes them back up into the clouds! Add another layer of ice, please. As long as there are updrafts this cycle could continue. Sometimes you can dissect the hail balls and see all the different layers (we learned this fact too late to give it a whirl). Bigger hail, more cycles.
Eventually the hail will become too big and heavy and the wind will not be strong enough to drive it back up into the clouds. This hail falls to the ground. And then those weather obsessed parents collect it to allow their kids to investigate it. (Oops, that’s me!)
My kids drew pictures showing how hail forms. They decided to not add colour because it’s grey and dark during a storm (very observant!).
And then the clouds disappear and the blue sky returns. The hail melts and it’s like it never happened. Isn’t weather beautiful (well at least the non-destructive kind)!