Unusual hailstorm in Texas. Does it mean a new world record?

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Texas once again became the center of attention for meteorologists and storm hunters when giant lumps of hail fell in the Vigo Park area on June 2. Thanks to the observation made by a pair of experienced storm hunters, Val and Amy Castor, the discovery could break the state’s previous record and earn a place in the history of extreme weather events.

Hailstorm season is just beginning

A few days ago, we wrote about the hailstorms that occurred in central and eastern Poland in late May. Admittedly, due to climate change, the frequency of weather anomalies is increasing and hail fell in Poland even in the middle of last winter, but the season for this phenomenon in the northern hemisphere is actually just beginning.

Meanwhile, Texas has just recorded a hailfall that has already made it into the record book. The fallout began on June 2 with the formation of a superstorm cell over the northwestern part of the state, in the area of the city of Amarillo. This cell sucked the water vapor to the height where it froze, forming lumps of hail ice. It then shifted slightly to the east, with the heaviest rainfall occurring in the Vigo Park settlement area.

Storm hunters on the trail of the record

It is a sparsely populated area and the hailstorm might have passed without much notice had it not been followed by a pair of storm hunters, Val and Amy Castor. They usually track storms in neighboring Oklahoma, which, like northern Texas, lies in what is known as Tornado Alley. The season for tornadoes is usually in spring, during the change in weather from cool to warm. In contrast, they give way to hail storms in early summer. The northern reaches of Tornado Alley in the Calgary area of Canada are considered particularly vulnerable to the phenomenon, but it is also making its mark in the south.

The Castors, following a Texas storm in early June, noticed that the size of the hail clumps was particularly large. They compare them to baseballs. One of them broke the windshield of their car, which for storm hunters with thirty years of experience, however, was not enough reason to retreat. Persistence paid off, because at one point they spotted a lump of particularly impressive size in one of the roadside ditches. It was striking from about a hundred meters away. According to Vala Castor’s account, it was the size of a pineapple. The shape immortalized in the photos, full of icy spears, may also resemble this fruiting body.

Unfortunately, the Castors did not have a tape measure with them, let alone a scale. They placed a can of soda and a glove as a reference point in the photo. The lump of hail exceeds them in length and has a width comparable to a glove. Based on this, it was later determined that the length was just over seven inches, or nearly eighteen centimeters. The weight could not be estimated.

Comparison with existing records

The Castors say they have never seen such a large lump of hail before. This is likely because it appears that their find broke the Texas state record previously held by a specimen 16.25 centimeters (6.4 inches) long and weighing more than half a kilogram found in April 2021 in Hondo (a town near San Antonio, in the central part of the state). A similar sized (6-8 inches) lump was found in December 1892 at Gay Hill, but there is no documentation to confirm the exact size. Lumps estimated at about six inches were also recorded in 1946 and 2010.

All indications are that the lump of hail from Vigo Park will get the title of record holder. In Texas, there is a state commission for the State Climate Extremes Committee, which approves it. Even if it does, it won’t break the U.S. record, which officially belongs to a lump found in 2010 in Vivian, South Dakota. That specimen was eight inches (over 20 cm) in diameter and 1.94 pounds (88 dag) in weight. In contrast, the heaviest documented specimen in the world is believed to be a lump found in 1986 Bangladesh, which weighed about a kilogram.

Considering that massive lumps of hail can fall at 190 km/h, a record-breaking fall can cause much more damage than a broken window. The previous state record holder fell in a more densely populated area, allowing its mass to be measured. The measurement of the two record holders was made by experts affiliated not with a meteorological institution but with an institute specializing in building safety research. No wonder – during that hailstorm, other large lumps pierced even the ceilings of houses.

Records in Poland and Europe

In Poland, the record specimen is considered to be the lump that fell near Tomaszów Mazowiecki in June 2021. It was almost 14 cm long, so it was slightly smaller than the Texan. For what it’s worth, the European record holder was 19 cm, and it fell last year in northern Italy.

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