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Graupel ( // ; German: [ˈɡʁaʊpl̩] ), also called soft hail or snow pellets, is precipitation that forms when supercooled water droplets are collected and freeze on falling snowflakes, forming 2–5 mm (0.08–0.20 in) balls of rime. The term graupel is the German language word for sleet.
Graupel is distinct from hail and ice pellets. Hail is common in thunderstorms, while graupel typically falls in winter storms. The METAR code for graupel is GS.
Under some atmospheric conditions, snow crystals may encounter supercooled water droplets. These droplets, which have a diameter of about 10 μm (0.00039 in), can exist in the liquid state at temperatures as low as −40 °C (−40 °F), far below the normal freezing point. Contact between a snow crystal and the supercooled droplets results in freezing of the liquid droplets onto the surface of the crystal. This process of crystal growth is known as accretion. Crystals that exhibit frozen droplets on their surfaces are often referred to as rimed. When this process continues so that the shape of the original snow crystal is no longer identifiable, the resulting crystal is referred to as graupel. Graupel was formerly referred to by meteorologists as soft hail. However, graupel is easily distinguishable from hail in both the shape and strength of the pellet and the circumstances in which it falls. Ice from hail is formed in hard, relatively uniform layers and usually falls only during thunderstorms. Graupel forms fragile, oblong shapes and falls in place of typical snowflakes in wintry mix situations, often in concert with ice pellets. Graupel is also fragile enough that it will typically fall apart when touched.
The frozen droplets on the surface of rimed crystals are difficult to see, and the topography of a graupel particle is not easy to record with a light microscope because of the limited resolution and depth of field in the instrument.
However, observations of snow crystals with a low-temperature scanning electron microscope (LT-SEM) clearly show cloud droplets measuring up to 50 μm (0.002 in) on the surface of the crystals. The rime has been observed on all four basic forms of snow crystals, including plates, dendrites, columns, and needles. As the riming process continues, the mass of frozen, accumulated cloud droplets obscures the form of the original snow crystal, thereby giving rise to a graupel particle.
Graupel commonly forms in high-altitude climates and is both denser and more granular than ordinary snow, due to its rimed exterior. Macroscopically, graupel resembles small beads of polystyrene. The combination of density and low viscosity makes fresh layers of graupel unstable on slopes, and layers of 20–30 cm (8–12 in) present a high risk of dangerous slab avalanches. In addition, thinner layers of graupel falling at low temperatures can act as ball bearings below subsequent falls of more naturally stable snow, rendering them also liable to avalanche. Graupel tends to compact and stabilise ("weld") approximately one or two days after falling, depending on the temperature and the properties of the graupel.
Frost is a thin layer of ice on a solid surface, which forms from water vapor in an above freezing atmosphere coming in contact with a solid surface whose temperature is below freezing, and resulting in a phase change from water vapor to ice as the water vapor reaches the freezing point. In temperate climates, it most commonly appears on surfaces near the ground as fragile white crystals; in cold climates, it occurs in a greater variety of forms. The propagation of crystal formation occurs by the process of nucleation.
Hail is a form of solid precipitation. It is distinct from ice pellets, though the two are often confused. It consists of balls or irregular lumps of ice, each of which is called a hailstone. Ice pellets fall generally in cold weather while hail growth is greatly inhibited during cold surface temperatures.
Ice is water frozen into a solid state. Depending on the presence of impurities such as particles of soil or bubbles of air, it can appear transparent or a more or less opaque bluish-white color.
Snow comprises individual ice crystals that grow while suspended in the atmosphere—usually within clouds—and then fall, accumulating on the ground where they undergo further changes. It consists of frozen crystalline water throughout its life cycle, starting when, under suitable conditions, the ice crystals form in the atmosphere, increase to millimeter size, precipitate and accumulate on surfaces, then metamorphose in place, and ultimately melt, slide or sublimate away.
Sleet is a regionally variant term for some forms of precipitation:
Fog is a visible aerosol consisting of tiny water droplets or ice crystals suspended in the air at or near the Earth's surface. Fog can be considered a type of low-lying cloud usually resembling stratus, and is heavily influenced by nearby bodies of water, topography, and wind conditions. In turn, fog has affected many human activities, such as shipping, travel, and warfare.
Freezing rain is the name given to rain maintained at temperatures below freezing by the ambient air mass that causes freezing on contact with surfaces. Unlike a mixture of rain and snow, ice pellets, or hail, freezing rain is made entirely of liquid droplets. The raindrops become supercooled while passing through a sub-freezing layer of air hundreds of meters above the ground, and then freeze upon impact with any surface they encounter, including the ground, trees, electrical wires, aircraft, and automobiles. The resulting ice, called glaze ice, can accumulate to a thickness of several centimeters and cover all exposed surfaces. The METAR code for freezing rain is FZRA.
A winter storm is an event in which varieties of precipitation are formed that only occur at low temperatures, such as snow or sleet, or a rainstorm where ground temperatures are low enough to allow ice to form. In temperate continental climates, these storms are not necessarily restricted to the winter season, but may occur in the late autumn and early spring as well. Very rarely, they may form in summer, though it would have to be an abnormally cold summer, such as the summer of 1816 in the Northeastern United States.
In meteorology, precipitation is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapour that falls under gravity from clouds. The main forms of precipitation include drizzle, rain, sleet, snow, ice pellets, graupel and hail. Precipitation occurs when a portion of the atmosphere becomes saturated with water vapor, so that the water condenses and "precipitates". Thus, fog and mist are not precipitation but suspensions, because the water vapor does not condense sufficiently to precipitate. Two processes, possibly acting together, can lead to air becoming saturated: cooling the air or adding water vapor to the air. Precipitation forms as smaller droplets coalesce via collision with other rain drops or ice crystals within a cloud. Short, intense periods of rain in scattered locations are called "showers."
Cloud physics is the study of the physical processes that lead to the formation, growth and precipitation of atmospheric clouds. These aerosols are found in the troposphere, stratosphere, and mesosphere, which collectively make up the greatest part of the homosphere. Clouds consist of microscopic droplets of liquid water, tiny crystals of ice, or both. Cloud droplets initially form by the condensation of water vapor onto condensation nuclei when the supersaturation of air exceeds a critical value according to Köhler theory. Cloud condensation nuclei are necessary for cloud droplets formation because of the Kelvin effect, which describes the change in saturation vapor pressure due to a curved surface. At small radii, the amount of supersaturation needed for condensation to occur is so large, that it does not happen naturally. Raoult's law describes how the vapor pressure is dependent on the amount of solute in a solution. At high concentrations, when the cloud droplets are small, the supersaturation required is smaller than without the presence of a nucleus.
Rime ice forms when supercooled water liquid droplets freeze onto surfaces. Meteorologists distinguish between three basic types of ice forming on vertical and horizontal surfaces by deposition of supercooled water droplets. There are also intermediate formations.
The Wegener–Bergeron–Findeisen process, is a process of ice crystal growth that occurs in mixed phase clouds in regions where the ambient vapor pressure falls between the saturation vapor pressure over water and the lower saturation vapor pressure over ice. This is a subsaturated environment for liquid water but a supersaturated environment for ice resulting in rapid evaporation of liquid water and rapid ice crystal growth through vapor deposition. If the number density of ice is small compared to liquid water, the ice crystals can grow large enough to fall out of the cloud, melting into rain drops if lower level temperatures are warm enough.
Ice pellets are a form of precipitation consisting of small, translucent balls of ice. Ice pellets are smaller than hailstones which form in thunderstorms rather than in winter, and are different from graupel which is made of frosty white rime, and from a mixture of rain and snow which is a slushy liquid or semisolid. Ice pellets often bounce when they hit the ground or other solid objects, and make a higher-pitched "tap" when striking objects like jackets, windshields, and dried leaves, compared to the dull splat of liquid raindrops. Pellets generally do not freeze into a solid mass unless mixed with freezing rain. The METAR code for ice pellets is PL.
In meteorology, the various types of precipitation often include the character or phase of the precipitation which is falling to ground level. There are three distinct ways that precipitation can occur. Convective precipitation is generally more intense, and of shorter duration, than stratiform precipitation. Orographic precipitation occurs when moist air is forced upwards over rising terrain, such as a mountain.
Rain and snow mixed is precipitation composed of rain and partially melted snow. Unlike ice pellets, which are hard, and freezing rain, which is fluid until striking an object, this precipitation is soft and translucent, but it contains some traces of ice crystals, from partially fused snowflakes. In any one location, it usually occurs briefly as a transition phase from rain to snow or vice versa. Its METAR code is RASN.
Classifications of snow describe and categorize the attributes of snow-generating weather events, including the individual crystals both in the air and on the ground, and the deposited snow pack as it changes over time. Snow can be classified by describing the weather event that is producing it, the shape of its ice crystals or flakes, how it collects on the ground, and thereafter how it changes form and composition. Depending on the status of the snow in the air or on the ground, a different classification applies.
A snowflake is a single ice crystal that has achieved a sufficient size, and may have amalgamated with others, then falls through the Earth's atmosphere as snow. Each flake nucleates around a dust particle in supersaturated air masses by attracting supercooled cloud water droplets, which freeze and accrete in crystal form. Complex shapes emerge as the flake moves through differing temperature and humidity zones in the atmosphere, such that individual snowflakes differ in detail from one another, but may be categorized in eight broad classifications and at least 80 individual variants. The main constituent shapes for ice crystals, from which combinations may occur, are needle, column, plate, and rime. Snow appears white in color despite being made of clear ice. This is due to diffuse reflection of the whole spectrum of light by the small crystal facets of the snowflakes.
Accretion is defined as the gradual collection of something over time. In meteorology or atmospheric science it is the process of accumulation of frozen water as precipitation over time as it descends through the atmosphere, in particular when an ice crystal or snowflake hits a supercooled liquid droplet, which then freeze together, increasing the size of the water particle. The collection of these particles eventually forms snow or hail in clouds and depending on lower atmosphere temperatures may become rain, sleet, or graupel. Accretion is the basis for cloud formation and can also be seen as water accumulates on the particulate matter and form jet contrails. This is because water vapor in the air requires condensation nuclei to form large droplets of solid or liquid water.
This glossary of meteorology is a list of terms and concepts relevant to meteorology and atmospheric science, their sub-disciplines, and related fields.
A shower is a mode of precipitation characterized by an abrupt start and end and by rapid variations in intensity. Often strong and short-lived, it comes from convective clouds, like cumulus congestus. A shower will produce rain if the temperature is above the freezing point in the cloud, or snow/ice pellets/snow pellets if the temperature is below it at some point. In a meteorological observation, such as the METAR, they are noted SH giving respectively SHRA, SHSN, SHPE and SHGS.
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