NOTE: the Buffalo News failed to correct the mispelling of "graupel" in a March 30, 2013 article by T. J. Pignataro; both the author and the editor were contacted.
April 4, 2013
I read with interest TJ Pignataro's article on NWS spotters in last Saturday's News. I especially appreciated the description of Lori Dankert's laudable efforts during the August 9-10, 2009 derecho that flooded Gowanda. Her hourly measurements enabled the upward correction of the NWS Buffalo's doppler radar estimates of maximum precipitation intensities across the storm area. Maximum rainfall intensity is a crucial factor for the accurate modeling of erosion at the nearby West Valley, NY nuclear waste site, which lost power to its automated weather station and therefore had no rainfall data for that excursionary storm.
Mr. Pignataro's story opens with an understandable error: the misidentification of "graupel", an unfamiliar form of precipitation, as "grapple". A local TV weather presenter has mispronounced this weather term for many years.
I learned about graupel from my father at an early age. He was one of the weathermen stationed at Gander Field, Newfoundland during WW II who were responsible for the forecasts that enabled the ferrying of thousands of fighters and bombers to England and the European theater. Graupel (or "soft hail") was not so uncommon in the North Atlantic during those years. It signalled atmospheric conditions that might bring down aircraft due to icing.
Basically, graupel forms when snow flakes form and fall through an atmospheric layer containing supercooled fine water droplets that freeze on the crystals' surfaces (a process called rime ice accretion) resulting in soft, white pellets under one-quarter inch that are no longer recognizable as flakes. For a more technical definition see: http://emu.arsusda.gov/snowsite/rimegraupel/rg.html.
The "au" in graupel is pronounced as in "Oww, that hurt." Much as my last name. And, as far as I know, "snizzle" is not an officially recognized term.