We got back to Austin late, after a week on the road. A great trip overall but I was happy to be back in my own house. Brian was able to stay the weekend before he continued on to Florida.
To pass the time in Austin, I took Brian to see a PhD defense at the university. The defender was Dusty Schroeder, a member of my research group. He did a great job presenting and I’m happy to say his committee passed him with flying colors. Dr. Schroeder’s PhD thesis is titled “Characterizing The Subglacial Hydrology Of Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica Using Airborne Radar Sounding”. If you’re intrigued, one of his papers related to the thesis can be found here.
The next day, I spent a fair bit of time finishing up my poster for an upcoming conference while Brian replaced the hand brake in his Jeep (for a fraction of the cost and time the mechanic wanted). As we were reorganizing the Jeep for the rest of his journey, some pretty impressive storm clouds moved in.
We got inside just a few minutes before the rains came. The rain grew louder until I realized that it wasn’t rain at all — it was hail! I think hail is one of the coolest weather phenomena. And as long as it’s not causing any damage, I’m happy to sit back and enjoy it.
Hail is weird because it’s hard to imagine balls of ice having time to grow in a cloud before they fall. But under the right conditions, that’s exactly what happens. I found the below illustration on Encyclopedia Britannica to explain the process.
The very basic principle is that specks of dust can collect ice if
- there is moisture in the air
- they are high in the atmosphere where the temperature is below freezing.
This movement of the dust to higher altitude typically occurs when you have an updraft from a storm. The updraft is able to keep the balls of ice effectively suspended in the air. The longer they stay up there, the more ice they can accumulate and the larger they grow.
Eventually, the weight of the ice overcomes the updraft or the ice gets caught in a downdraft which delivers the hail to the ground below. For the latest storm in Austin at the end of March, we were in the small hail section of the illustration. But the storms that rolled through North Texas in the first week of April brought large hail and tornadoes.
The kind of large hail that North Texas got can cause an incredible amount of damage. Here’s a list of the most expensive storms in Texas since 1950. Of those in North Texas, the top four are hail storms and the fifth is a tornado/hail combo. Put together, those five storms account for more than $5.5 billion in damage. So while the small hail we usually get in Austin is a novelty, under the right circumstances hail packs a punch.