Explanation: A Grapefruit Hailstorm

Robert Siegel follows a word that appeared in the news this morning. Hail that fell yesterday in Stanton, N.D., was described by residents as being the size of "grapefruits." Robert talks with Stanton resident Carrie Simpfenderfer who witnessed the storm. The question of how hail is formed is answered by Jim Keeney, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the Central Region Headquarters of the National Weather Service in Kansas City, Missouri.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Patches of severe weather are rolling across the plains today, reaching parts of the Northeast. And as you may have heard in the news this morning, one town in North Dakota took a real pounding.

NORA RAUM: Residents of Stanton, North Dakota, say they saw hail the size of grapefruit.

SIEGEL: That was NPR's Nora Raum reporting this morning. Carrie Simpfenderfer lives in Stanton, North Dakota, and joins us now. Tell us about yesterday. Did you see hailstones the size of grapefruit?

CARRIE SIMPFENDERFER: I did see one in a rain gutter that was very large. I can't say it was grapefruit size, but it was very big.

SIEGEL: You saw it in a rain gutter.

SIMPFENDERFER: Uh-huh.

SIEGEL: Well, today in Stanton, I assume that people have exchanged accounts of what they saw yesterday.

SIMPFENDERFER: Correct.

SIEGEL: The town having made global news coverage. And who in town seems to hold the record for the largest hailstone sighting?

SIMPFENDERFER: Well, I think that would probably be Gordie Schnobble(ph).

SIEGEL: What did Gordie Schnobble see?

SIMPFENDERFER: Well, I believe he saw just large hailstones. I don't know that he recounted how big they were, but they were very big. He took a picture of his wife holding one and sent it in to a Bismarck TV station.

SIEGEL: And does it appear to be the size of a grapefruit?

SIMPFENDERFER: It's very large. I can't say for sure if it's the size of a grapefruit, but it's very large.

SIEGEL: Who came up with this grapefruit size comparison? Where does that come from?

SIMPFENDERFER: I suppose just from town.

SIEGEL: Someone in town, someone in town.

SIMPFENDERFER: Somebody in town.

SIEGEL: Well, was anybody hurt? I mean, if you were hit by a piece of ice the size of a grapefruit, it's serious.

SIMPFENDERFER: If you'd been hit with any of those you would've been knocked silly at best.

SIEGEL: Yeah. But no casualties from yesterday's hailstorm?

SIMPFENDERFER: Nope, not that I've heard of, nothing besides windshields and dents in your automobiles.

SIEGEL: Any pets might have been hit by it?

SIMPFENDERFER: Not that I have heard.

SIEGEL: And Gordie, who seems to have, you know, caught the big one - a credible guy? I mean, someone you could -

SIMPFENDERFER: Oh, totally.

SIEGEL: Well, Carrie Simpfenderfer, thank you very much for talking with us today.

SIMPFENDERFER: You're very welcome.

SIEGEL: That's Carrie Simpfenderfer of Stanton, North Dakota.

More now on hail from Jim Keeney, who is warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Kansas City. And Mr. Keeney, first of all, why do we get hail during a storm?

JIM KEENEY: All thunderstorms have the capability of producing hail. It's all dependant upon what we call the updraft strength within that particular thunderstorm. The stronger the updraft or the winds that blow up into that thunderstorm, the better possibility of hailstones to grow to the size of, say, baseballs or grapefruits.

SIEGEL: Does the National Weather Service actually have an official scale that goes up from golf ball to hardball to softball to grapefruit?

KEENEY: Yeah, there's a general scale that we use and we give out to our spotters, so it's more of a general idea so we're all on the same page. Generally it runs from pea size, which is the smallest, and we go from pea to a marble. Then we start using coins. We go to dime, penny, nickel, quarter, and then we go to half-a-dollar size coin, and then walnut, golf ball, and then we go to hen egg size.

SIEGEL: It's not that shape, though. Aren't hailstones usually round?

KEENEY: No. Hailstones are all different shapes. From the hen egg, it goes to tennis ball, baseball, and the one we've got here is teacup, about the size of a normal size coffee cup, grapefruit and then lastly softball.

SIEGEL: So the folks in Stanton, North Dakota, almost reached the top of the scale, but still softball sized hail would've been even bigger.

KEENEY: Right, just a little bit bigger, but when we're talking half an inch when it's that big, that's not that different.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Keeney, thank you very much.

KEENEY: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: Jim Keeney, who is warning coordination meteorologist Central Region Headquarters of the National Weather Service in Kansas City. Thanks a lot for talking with us.

KEENEY: Thank you.

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