Ask Josh Fitzpatrick: How does hail form?

We saw many severe thunderstorms Friday night. Some of which produced baseball size hail. How does that happen? Meteorologist Josh Fitzpatrick has the interesting details.

We've experienced one of the worst severe outbreaks our area has ever had Friday night, especially for the month of March.  Not only did the storms produce vivid lightning, damaging winds, isolated tornadoes but also large hail!

Below is a photo from southern Wayne County, WV showing hail the size of marbles covering the ground looking like snowfall.

The hail was as large as baseballs in parts of the Coal Fields.  This is damage done to a car in southern Wayne County.  Thankfully no reports of injuries with this hail storm.

So what really causes hail to form?

Updrafts within thunderstorms push rain high into the cloud where very cold air freezes it. Once frozen, it starts to fall but gets caught in another strong updraft where it gathers more moisture on its way back up making it larger. If the updrafts are strong enough they will continue this process for long periods of time allowing the hail to accumulate more ice.  When updrafts are this strong it becomes possible to suspend large hail for long periods of time, sometimes building it to incredible sizes. Updraft winds can be from 100 to 120 miles per hour when producing baseball and larger size hail.  Large hail storms often are signs of a tornado near by.

 

Most hail forms in thunderstorms during March through June when the upper atmosphere is coldest.

 

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