It’s not sleet!

December 19, 2015

Graupel big

Of course it’s nice not having to cope with ice-slick roads, or worry about when the snowplow might show up, but the mildness of the weather so far this December is unsettling, a reminder that we are living in the anthropocene with little clue about–and even less control over–the future we are shaping.  So when I felt a seasonably chill wind on my face today and looked up to see white stuff swirling down from soft gray clouds, my spirits lifted….Here it comes, I thought, a Maine December as it was “meant to be.”

Looking at what was landing on the ground, I realized that the white stuff was not snow or sleet, but arare, opaque, milk-white pellets resembling small hailstones. In fact, it is okay to think of arare as small hail since it forms in the same way, when supercooled water in the atmosphere rimes a snowflake (or other ice crystal) passing through. (Hailstones get multiple coats as they travel up and down the towering summer storm clouds but arare only one.) I had never noticed arare and its difference from sleet–translucent ice pellets formed from frozen raindrops—until I went to Japan and friends taught me a word for what my eyes were seeing but not really taking in. For a long time I thought that there was no word for arare in English. Japanese-English dictionaries only list it as “hail.” But today I learned that there is a word: graupel. It’s from the German. Turns out that meteorologists in the English speaking world have been using it all along. Here is my graupel haiku.

Warmth feels too tame now

These icy swirls bring wildness—

Graupel frosts the ground


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