Understanding different types of precipitation in Richmond

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - We get all types of severe weather in the Mid-Atlantic. We get anything from damaging winds and tornadoes to intense lightning and hail.

But sometimes it's not so clear-cut as to what is falling from the sky.

We at NBC12 receive tons of reports of sleet, hail, or freezing rain, but they can be pretty difficult to tell the difference.  Across the Midwest storms are more intense, which makes it easier to classify each type of weather phenomenon.  East of the Appalachians it becomes less clear.

We'll start with hail.  It forms in intense updrafts, where water droplets rise, freeze, gain weight and fall, rises again and repeats the process, freezing a new layer each time it rises, which gives it an onion-layered appearance when it finally reaches the ground as solid ice.

Sleet usually happens in less intense storms, where warmer air is slowly rising over cold air.  The water droplet freezes into small ice pellets as it falls through the cold air.

There is another type of precipitation called graupel, a German word for meteorological phenomenon.

Graupel is considered a soft or slushy hail.  This occurs when ice crystals condense on super cooled water droplets.  It has a smaller and more milky appearance than hail.  This usually doesn't cause damage though since it usually crumbles when it hits the ground.  Unlike hail, which is a condense solid piece of ice.

The weather is very complex, but hopefully this will give you a better understanding of what may be falling from the sky.  In any severe weather situation, whether there's graupel or hail falling, you should always seek shelter immediately.

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