"Snow" in Fairfield California – Gore effect?

My lovely wife and I are back home now from our medical diversion to Stanford, and everything is OK. Looks like this was the last time surgery was needed. Thanks for all the well-wishes and help everyone!

While en-route on Thursday April 7th late afternoon, interesting weather (not climate) occurred as we passed through Fairfield, CA. It is not quite the Bay Area, but pretty darned close with an elevation of only 62 feet. Have a look at this photo:

Photo by Jane Locas from her Facebook page

The photo above is taken by a friend (Jane Locas) also traveling through at the same time. We saw similar scenes, but couldn’t get to the camera while on I-80. We did snap this photo when we pulled off:

It looked and felt like wet snow, and that’s what everyone was calling it we spoke to at the restaurant where we snapped this photo in the parking lot, but I have my doubts. Here’s why.

Have a look at the met obs from Travis AFB, nearby for the time period:

The METAR report doesn’t mention snow, but does mention -TSRA (ThunderStorm and RAin). METAR codes are here. Note also the winds.

There was convective activity in the area, and we did see some mild thunderstorms and some lightning on the trip prior to driving through Fairfield.

When I picked it up and examined it felt exactly like wet snow and had the right texture, it was also very slushy, so melting had occurred. Note the air temp of 43-46F during that time. Note also in the first photo above the “clumpy” pellet like shapes seen through the windshield.

While Al Gore might have been at his bayside condo in downtown SFO contemplating whether the lack of an update for months on sea level at UC will make his purchase look better or worse, I think we can safely rule out the Gore effect and say it was simply a thundersnow weather event precipitating something known as graupel.

Thundersnow formation with an occluded front.

Handful of graupel pellets.

Wikipedia says:

Thundersnow, also known as a winter thunderstorm or a thunder snowstorm, is a relatively rare kind of thunderstorm with snow falling as the primary precipitation instead of rain. It typically falls in regions of strong upward motion within the cold sector of an extratropical cyclone, where the precipitation consists of ice pellets rather than snow. Thermodynamically, it is not different from any other type of thunderstorms but the top of the cumulonimbus are usually quite low.

That pretty well describes the mesoscale phenomena I witnessed while driving that day.

Had I had time and a thermos container, I would have collected a bunch of the graupel took it home, and brewed some Hail Ale, which is a fond memory from long ago and some stormchasing work  I once did.

However, as Mike Lorrey posted on the next day, that storm headed south and caused some real snow in the Los Angeles area.

Snow in Los Angeles County, NWS Winter Advisory

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John M
April 9, 2011 12:06 pm

Welcome back, and glad things went well.

Craig F
April 9, 2011 12:11 pm

My friend in Vegas has just sent me a very similar picture of it snowing on her car windshield. Did I mention it was Vegas, Nevada? That sort of thing boggles the mind for a Brit. Vegas is supposed to be a sea of neon sitting in a blistering desert.

Mac the Knife
April 9, 2011 12:28 pm

The photo showing the handful of ‘pellet snow’ is what we used to call ‘corn snow’, where I grew up in Wisconsin. We had local areas of about 1″ of the same, just a few days ago in the Puget Sound region of Washington state.
I’m glad to hear that the medical issues are stabilized and ‘on the mend’!

Joe Prins
April 9, 2011 12:33 pm

Welcome back. Here is hoping all medical trials and tribulations are now over. May any test results come out (snow) white.

Larry Sheldon
April 9, 2011 12:38 pm

I am encouraged and elated that the tone of this posting suggests that all is well with the Watts.
Praises and thanks are offered…..

April 9, 2011 12:40 pm

On my trip from Calgary to Wickenburg last November, I experenced accumulations of snow all the way to St George Utah on I-15. Once passing through the little corner of AZ into Nevada, things began drying up.
Judging by the vehicular carnage on the UT section of I-15, I would guess that that white stuff was a sparingly regular event. People seemed genuinely baffled.

April 9, 2011 12:41 pm

…oh, and I’m glad that everything went well at Stanford. Great news.

April 9, 2011 12:49 pm

I am so happy that your wife’s surgery went well.
After your post, the usual “Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)” has a link to “The Gore effect – now in the dictionary!”. Thought that would be interesting, except it gives a “404 error (file not found)”.

bob paglee
April 9, 2011 12:52 pm

We had a bit of that large-flake stuff a few days ago here in NJ, too. I think I heard a sort of big- flake-muffled thunderclap, maybe with sympathy for big Al Gore’s latest whimper.

P Walker
April 9, 2011 12:59 pm

Graupel . Always wondered what you called that stuff ( you see a lot of it in Sun Valley ) . Glad everything is ok .

April 9, 2011 1:12 pm

Trust you are on the mend Anthony and as always an interesting post.

Frank Lansner
April 9, 2011 1:22 pm

“My lovely wife and I are back home now ..”
Wow.. Just reminds me to go give my wife a biiig hug and kiss.
Snowy La Nina spring: Well, This forecast is still showing a remis between La Nina and El Nino a few months from now:
– but notice the blue (newer) forecasts are indicating that prognosis are slowly moving towards La Nina.
K.R. Frank and all the best!

April 9, 2011 1:25 pm

The white stuff is Donnergraupel. Basically bite-sized Thundersnow.

J. Knight
April 9, 2011 1:25 pm

Anthony, we are so glad your good wife came through the procedure and that all is well, and glad you’re safely home. Now, get to blogging! Just kidding, you deserve a few days off. Of course, if you feel like blogging……..

Jimmy Haigh
April 9, 2011 1:34 pm

My best regards to you and Mrs Watts. I hope that this latest bout of CAGW in Fairfield, CA, isn’t causing too much trouble. Does this man, Gore, have no shame?
Enjoy your respective favourite tipples on me.

April 9, 2011 1:41 pm

Many happy thoughts and warm wishes.

April 9, 2011 1:46 pm

Anthony, I have absolutely seen it snow in the low-40s here on the east coast (North Carolina) before. I’ve see sleet all the way up to 55F.

Michael O
April 9, 2011 2:10 pm

Here in Australia it is sometimes called “sago snow” or just “sago”. Even though we get up to two or three metres of snow each winter in our imaginatively named Snowy Mountains, the big fluffy flakes are not common.

April 9, 2011 2:15 pm

Anthony, I am happy for your good news and hope that you and your wife will enjoy a long stretch now free from the need for having your lives entangled with the medical profession.
As for the snow it’s obviously global warming. The comic strip “Zack Hill” this week has been mocking the linking of global warming with cold and snow. Cheers!

April 9, 2011 2:18 pm

As others have said glad that you and your wife are safe and back home.
The storm has moved east and is hitting us here in North Eastern Arizona. It has been snowing off and on all day. Fortunately it is to warm to stay on the ground but has put a nice white covering on the trees.

April 9, 2011 2:54 pm

Just ran into a neighbor. “Global Warming ‘Believer’…” (Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominos, Kyrie, etc.) He was believing in AWG yesterday, waiting for them to clear the runways at Salt Lake City and deice the plane before flying back to MN.

April 9, 2011 3:02 pm

Damn good for aquifer replenishment and ground water storage. Yay!

April 9, 2011 3:10 pm

best wishes for you and your wife.
Something nodd is happening in the world of weather. i have never known an eqarly April this warm in the UK! Yet you have snow in Cal. Something is screwed.

April 9, 2011 3:27 pm

I remember “thundersnow” from back East. In particular there was one storm in Washington DC where we had a Nor’easter and got hammered with snow when little had been forecast. The city was paralyzed. It took me 8 hours to get home from work. A couple of days later we had a squall come through and it started snowing like mad with lightning and thunder. It was actually pretty comical, people began simply abandoning their cars on the Beltway assuming we were going to get another massive blast. We ended up getting only a couple of inches but all those abandoned cars made it a horrible experience. I don’t remember what year it was but it was in the mid to late 1980’s.

Richard Keen
April 9, 2011 4:05 pm

Joe, welcome home and hope your tune-up goes for another 100,000+ miles.
Graupel, aka Snow Pellets (SP is the old code) are common here in Colorado, especially in the spring. Last week we had a two-inch thunder snow/pellet storm, while in April 1986 a 7-hour thunderstorm dropped almost two FEET of graupel. It then snowed regular flakes for another two feet.
As a co-op observer, I have to take great care to distinguish between graupel (snow pellets) and hail, since graupel counts as snow and towards the seasonal snow total, while hail does not (it used to in some observing manuals). The difference is subtle, depending on the bouncing characteristics and clarity of the pellet (but there is opaque hail, and wet graupel can be kind of clear). I use the thumbnail test – if I can crush or split the pellet with my (or someone else’s) thumbnail, it’s grapel. If I can’t, it’s solid ice (small hail).
If lightning is too close to feel good about going outside to play with pellets on the ground, one can look at a hail pad (aluminum foil on styrofoam) after the storm moves on. Hail leaves well defined craters on a hail pad while graupel leaves rounded dents.
This is all pretty arcane, but fun stuff for weather observer geeks.

April 9, 2011 4:07 pm

In the Sierras at mid elevations, we simply called this stuff popcorn snow. And it piles up real fast in Winter.
Whether it’s thundersnow or thunderhail, it is a thing of the past in the World according to Gore. It melts on the news, not in your lane, as the picture testifies.

Lady Life Grows
April 9, 2011 5:11 pm

There are 19 million results on Bing for The Gore Effect. The first several were definitions.
As to 404 error, I get that a lot, close the window and try again. Usually, the second try works.

Lady Life Grows
April 9, 2011 5:14 pm

Has anyone done a statistical analysis of the Gore Effect to determine whether it is real or just an amused impression?

Amino Acids in Meteorites
April 9, 2011 5:17 pm

I think some people in the San Francisco Bay Area consider Fairfield part of the Bay Area.

Jeff L
April 9, 2011 5:45 pm

We had experienced graupel at Vail last Sunday, including thunder & lightning with the passage of a strong cold front. Lightning closed all the lifts for about 1/2 hr. The one run we got in the graupel was brutal – 40 mph winds driving them into you like little BBs. Quickly changed over to very heavy snow. About 4″ in the 1st hr & 1 foot of fresh powder by lift closing. It was an amazing ski day.

April 9, 2011 5:52 pm

Fantastic news on the health front. Best wishes to get your lives back to normal. As to the photos, well that is just too timely.

April 9, 2011 5:54 pm

I’ll join the chorus on graupel. I typically see it in New Hampshire in early season snow showers, sometimes it will change to “real” snow. It doesn’t need the up and down ride that hail gets, all that’s necessary is for a snowflake to pass through some supercooled cloud. The droplets freeze on contact and you wind up with a little ball of rime ice.
Another name for it is soft hail, I think that’s mostly a European term, and one I’m not fond of. I think they should call it graupel….
Two good links:
This goes into some details, but I think some of:

Under some atmospheric conditions, snow crystals may encounter supercooled cloud droplets. These droplets, which have a diameter of about 10 µm, can exist in the liquid state at temperatures as low as -40°F, far below the normal freezing point. Contact between a snow crystal and the supercooled droplets results in freezing of the liquid droplets onto the surface of the crystal. This process of crystal growth is known as accretion. Crystals that exhibit frozen droplets on their surfaces are referred to as rimed. When this process continues so that the shape of the original snow crystal is no longer identifiable, the resulting crystal is referred to as graupel. Graupel was formerly referred to by meteorologists as soft hail. However, graupel is easily distinguishable from hail in both the shape and strength of the pellet and the circumstances in which it falls. Ice from hail is formed in hard, relatively uniform layers and usually falls only during thunderstorms. Graupel forms fragile, oblong shapes and falls in place of typical snowflakes in wintry mix situations, often in concert with ice pellets. Graupel is also fragile enough that it will typically fall apart when touched.

was taken from http://emu.arsusda.gov/snowsite/rimegraupel/rg.html which has some really neat LT-SEM (Low Temperature Scanning Electron Microscope) photos of different types of rimed snow flakes. Science-speak calls them snow crystals, since only one type is a flake.
What you saw, and what I generally see, is like Fig. 5 – a 2 mm fluffy pellet with the snow crystal completely buried inside.

April 9, 2011 5:58 pm

Glad you are back home safe with good news.
How interesting that stuff has a name! We experienced this once in June in the Nebraska Sandhills north of Anselmo. Slushy hail-snow that came from a thunderstorm.

April 9, 2011 6:47 pm

Glad to hear things went well Anthony. Fingers crossed your wife is out of the woods now with her health problems.

April 9, 2011 6:55 pm

I am glad everything went well Anthony!
“Lady Life Grows says:
April 9, 2011 at 5:14 pm
Has anyone done a statistical analysis of the Gore Effect to determine whether it is real or just an amused impression?”
See these for starters:

April 9, 2011 8:21 pm

Extremely glad to hear everything is OK Anthony.
There have been numerous thundersnow events this past winter over the US, due to the extremely dynamic systems that brought them….not unlike this early spring storm that dove down through California.
Check out the lightning display (wait a few minutes) during the snow-draped landscape outside of DC back in January:

And one also in January in NYC:

Norfolk, VA, USA

April 10, 2011 12:36 am

Great news Mrs Watts and for the family Anthony.
All the best. Hope there is time for a holiday together soon.

Viv Evans
April 10, 2011 4:43 am

@ diogenes (April 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm):
Well, I do remember very well such a warm early April in the UK. It was 30 years ago, to the day and weekend … it was my wedding day, something one tends not to forget.
Excellent news, that your lovely wife is now in the clear, Anthony! Have a rest this weekend as well, the both of you.

April 10, 2011 9:16 am

Wow. First time I’ve read the word “graupel” in an English-language text.
I’ve never had occasion to look for an English-equivalent since moving to Australia from Germany in 1968.
P.S. I’m pleased to read the little medical success story.

Grumpy Old Man
April 10, 2011 9:26 am

Really glad all went well Anthony. Never mind the weather, it’s the climate that counts and from what I read on the sunspot post, things don’t look too good. Burn wood, paper, petrol, anything that produces CO2 and water vapour. We seriously need AGW. I’m too damn old to keep digging the snow out of the drive. Given that, after a cold winter, spring is here early in the UK but of course it’s just weather. Next week, we’re back to rain and colder temps.

April 10, 2011 1:37 pm

Well, I watched some of this stuff come down out my office window. We just call it “hail” as all hail here tends to be “small hail” (which is what that link defined graupel to be).
Yeah, a bit like snow that had slushed a bit and gotten stuck together into snow pellets (another way to describe it).
Had a pretty good dump of it. Please tell Mr. Gore to send the Global Warming. He promissed it to me. I’ve planted my garden twice now, based on his assuring me that things would be warmer. Having “hail damage and cold winds” was not on the agenda.
Where to I apply for my subsidy / grant for “Climate Change Damage”?

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