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.