Hail Raiser

STS Students, Atmospheric Science Students

By Madisen Lindholm

As a weather lover, I always fangirl when a big storm rolls through. I love going outside or chasing it (safely) and seeing all aspects of the storm. Sometimes before a thunderstorm that will produce hail, mammatus clouds form. Mammatus clouds are bubbly in appearance, and are considered unique, but we often see them in the Black Hills. These are my favorite clouds due to how unique they are and how telling of the storm components they are.

Clouds against a blue sky. The sky is visible at the bottom of the image and above that dark, bubbly mammatus clouds take up most of the image.
This image was taken last summer from Rushmore Crossing. Up at the top of the image are the dark, bubbly mammatus clouds. Mammatus clouds typically foreshadow hail, and are rare in most areas, but are somewhat common during the summer in South Dakota.

I especially love the aftereffects of a thunderstorm. The stillness in the air, the rainbows, the smell of freshly fallen rain, and the glow of the atmosphere are all amazing to me. It also amazes me how much energy storms produce and use as they race across the plains of South Dakota, dropping rain, wind, hail, and lightning as they go. One storm that particularly amazes me is one that occurred on July 23rd, 2010, in Vivian, SD. This storm produced the largest hailstone ever recorded in the United States (3D printed model pictured above). This hailstone is 8 inches in diameter, 18.6 inches in circumference and weighs nearly 2 pounds! Imagine that hitting your house!

Because I have always loved severe weather, I knew my senior research topic needed to be in that category. I especially find hail fascinating, so I decided to use hail as my main topic. South Dakota summer thunderstorms are known for the hail they bring. From car damage, broken windows, roof damage, livestock casualties, plant damage, and human casualties, hail causes many problems. As a lifelong South Dakotan, there have been many times I have been out and about when suddenly I get a National Weather Service emergency warning about hail, but by that point it is too late to move my car into a safe area. Over the years, it has seemed like hail has increased in frequency and size on a regular basis. For example, last summer it seemed like the majority of storms brought at least pea-sized hail, where just a decade ago I remember hail being a more special occurrence. This struck me as an important hypothesis to address because as climate change becomes worse hail will, too, so I figured it would make for an interesting capstone project.

Dark, bubbly mammatus clouds at the top of the image, with darker sky and the ground beyond the clouds, in the bottom of the image.
This image of mammatus clouds was taken from an airplane last summer at nighttime, so the quality is not great, but gives a great picture for how they look in a large group and from a unique perspective.

In my capstone, I am investigating how climate change has influenced hail characteristics across South Dakota from 1970 to present day. Hail affects everyone in South Dakota, so knowing if hail increasing in severity , or getting larger and more frequent, over time is important to everyday people, insurance companies, decision makers, emergency management, and much more. Hail can cause extensive damage to life, property, and animals, and it is worth knowing about its impacts and how to mitigate impacts. Climate change is an important part of this discussion because as climate change becomes worse, hail frequency and damage will likely follow suit.

Another aspect I plan to investigate is the National Weather Service’s watches and warnings for hail. I want to see if watches and warnings give people ample time and information to mitigate hail effects on themselves and their property. I hope this project will contribute to the collective good by increasing public knowledge of hail and how it is changing to help mitigate its harmful effect by giving people tools to prepare for impact. Keep your eye on the lookout for hail and mammatus clouds this summer! As a weather person I have to remind everyone to be weather aware and never put yourself in a dangerous storm situation. At the same time, make sure to enjoy the beauty of each thunderstorm and the hail they raise.

Madisen Lindholm is an Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences student. After graduation in December, I plan to go work in the private sector in operational meteorology. I am especially interested in aviation and energy, doing forecasting in either, but we will see where the road leads. I became an Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences major after trying first being a chemical engineering major then a computer engineering major. I sat down with Dr. Kliche and determined my true passions in life. I have always been passionate about the environment and sustainability and have loved weather since I was little. I chose atmospheric and environmental sciences to be my new major, as my passions fit well with it. I am so glad I did because I love the weather family I have at school. We all have so much fun in weather club, and we can all nerd out about the weather together.  

Young white woman with dark hair holding a 3-D printed hailstone model in one hand and wearing a bright yellow sweatshirt that says "Weather Club."
I am holding a 3-D printed model of the July 2010 hailstone that fell in Vivian, South Dakota. This model is the exact size and weight of the real hailstone that fell. I am also wearing my weather club sweatshirt in honor of weather club on campus!

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