LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – Tuesday’s severe weather saw reports of hail throughout Lake County and you may be wondering, how rare is a hail event like this in Central Florida?
According to the National Weather Service, every Florida thunderstorm has the potential to cause injury or property damage. Only about 10% actually produce dangerous winds or sufficiently large hail to be of a significant hazard as to result in damage to well-built structures or cause bodily harm – classifying them as severe thunderstorms.
Severe thunderstorms produce hail at least the size of a quarter (1 inch) or larger and/or gusty winds of 58 mph (50 knots) or more.
Video courtesy of the City of Groveland
According to News 6 meteorologists Jonathan Kegges and Candace Campos, Florida has a hail season.
The best chance to see hail in Florida is from March to July with the peak occurring in May. If you notice, these hail events tend to happen in late winter or spring, when it is typically cooler above the surface.
The record for the Sunshine State still stands at 4.5 inches. This grapefruit-sized hail has been observed on three occasions in Florida – March 1996 in Polk County, March 2003 in Bradford County and May 2007 in Marion County.
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A single severe thunderstorm caused nearly $15 million worth of damage in Lake Wales on March 30, 1996 from hailstones the size of softballs, according to the NWS.
Hail larger than a baseball was reported with a severe thunderstorm near Orlando on March 25, 1992.
Most recently, our largest hail report came from Sanford in May 2020, when a strong storm pelted Seminole County with 3 inch, or teacup-sized, hailstones. According the weather service, this report tied the record for the largest hailstone in east Central Florida.
How does hail form?
Thunderstorms are made up of updrafts and downdrafts. The updraft is the rising air within the thunderstorm and the downdraft is the downward moving air, eventually producing the gusty winds we feel on the ground as well as damage, if strong enough.
Hail forms in thunderstorms with intense updrafts. The updraft forces rain high into the thunderstorm where the air is below freezing. The rain drops and freezes becoming ice.
If the updraft is strong enough, the newly-formed hailstone cycles through the storm and grows. The hailstone forms layers by colliding with water and supercooled water, water that remains in the liquid state even though temperatures are below freezing.
Once the hailstone becomes too heavy to be supported by the thunderstorm updraft, it falls to the ground. The more intense the thunderstorm updraft, the larger the hail typically is. Oftentimes, hail can look like onions with multiple layers. This is more evident if you cut the stone in half.
When looking at the clear sections, the air was below freezing, but not extremely cold. The water spreads out over the stone and slowly freezes. Air bubbles are allowed to escape making the ice clear.
When the ice is cloudy, the air temperature where the ice formed is well below freezing, oftentimes locking in air bubbles because the water froze so fast. This leaves the ice more cloudy.
If you count the number of cloudy and clear rings or layers, you can estimate how many trips the stone made within the thunderstorm.
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