By Joel Gratz, Founding Meteorologist Posted 12 years ago November 26, 2011

DippinDots, Graupel, and Lightning - oh my!

As the weak storm moved over northern Colorado on Friday night, a cool thing happened: It started to snow DippinDots! Here's what it looked like:

Upon executing a quick taste test, we determined that these dots were in fact NOT DippinDots and concluded they could only be Graupel. Ah, weather nerds. Graupel is formed from snowflakes falling through air with lots of tiny, supercooled liquid water drops. By supercooled, it means that the liquid water drops are below freezing but still in a liquid form. Yeah, it's cool. As the snowflake falls through this air, the supercooled liquid water drops glob onto the snowflake (scientifically this is called Accretion) and make the snowflake bigger, kinda like a DippinDot. When this type of snowflake falls, it looks like a mini snowball.

For this whole process to occur, there usually needs to be some pretty fast rising motion in the atmosphere (which helps produce the supercooled drops AND to get the snowflake to move through these supercooled drops). Rising motion creates friction between the particles in the atmosphere (snow flakes, drops, etc), and can charge the atmosphere. And yep, that produces lightning.

That's exactly what happened, in fact. About a minute after it started snowing heavy graupel near the bottom of Beaver Creek, there was one solitary lightning flash and a corresponding "blam" of thunder. Looking at radar, you could see the little heavy cell move through (shown as the yellow spot, with the blue crosshair showing my current location).

Neato, eh? Enjoy making some turns this weekend...
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About The Author

Joel Gratz

Founding Meteorologist

Joel Gratz is the Founding Meteorologist of OpenSnow and has lived in Boulder, Colorado since 2003. Before moving to Colorado, he spent his childhood as a (not very fast) ski racer in eastern Pennsylvania.

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