SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Snow? Hail? Graupel? What’s the difference? And what the heck is graupel?

First, let’s talk about how precipitation takes different forms. Most of our precipitation, a.k.a. rain and snow start as snow at this latitude. If that snow falls through warmer air, it will eventually reach us as rain. If the snow continues to fall through the air that is at or below 32 degrees, it will stay snow. 

Other types of precipitation that fall in between are freezing rain, sleet, hail, and graupel.

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Freezing rain happens when those snowflakes fall through a deep warm layer but then re-freeze when it goes through a shallow cold layer of air. 

Sleet occurs when those flakes fall through a shallow cold layer then a deep cold layer.

Let’s talk about hail versus graupel. Hail develops in severe storms and is formed by layers of ice. The appearance is milky and hard. They also can be quite large and damaging.

Graupel forms around a snowflake in temperatures below 45 degrees. The appearance is milky and soft and resemblance Dippin’ Dots.

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