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Interesting Weather Fact – What is Graupel?

Contributed by Kim Cuozzo, Marketing Associate, Forensic Weather Marketing Team

Once colder weather moves in, a variety of precipitation can fall from the sky. One of the lesser-known types of wintry precipitation is graupel. Graupel occurs when it’s not quite cold enough to snow, often in the fall or spring. It’s also known as snow pellets or soft hail. When supercooled water droplets freeze onto snow crystals in the atmosphere, the droplets freeze and cause a buildup of frozen droplets on the crystal. After awhile, so many droplets build up around the crystal that you can no longer see the original snowflake. When graupel falls, it may look like and sound like either small hail or sleet. But upon closer examination, you can tell the difference. Graupel is an opaque white pellet, while hail and sleet tend to have some clear, shiny spots on them and look to be made of ice. Graupel is also usually slightly larger than sleet, and is softer, often falling apart when touched. Another difference is that hail falls during thunderstorms, from convective clouds. Graupel falls from a stratiform cloud, as snow or non-convective rain would. Although the differences in the types of wintry precipitation may be subtle, they are significant meteorologically!