Hail No, It’s Graupel!

There’s a lot of ice ice baby at EEC Forest Stewardship- and it’s not because we’re so cool, or is it? Climate change is re-configuring our weather across the globe, and here in The Pacific Northwest, we’re seeing dryer, hotter summers, and heavier rainfalls in winter. What’s also been much more prevalent in the last few years is graupel. What is this precipitation I’m talking about? Isn’t it just small hail? No- hail is formed through very strong thunderstorm updrafts and takes on a more erratic pattern. Graupel is snow with a layer of ice coating around it and never gets very big or heavy. It’s been falling here at EEC a lot this year, and I’ve taken to marking the events with pictures and video, as the intensity of the storms is very unusual. In a year we might see one or two of these events, usually in the summer when we get an occasional thunderstorm, but as other blog posts have commented, we’re getting more intense thunderstorm activity too.

In observing this subtle shift in climate, I wonder now how the fruit trees will handle this assault in time. By 2030, when most of the fruit and nut trees are well established, will our weather offer violent thunderstorms with hail, or even this torrent of graupel to bruise the blossoms, or worse, ripened fruit? Climate will continue to exaggerate, and the pace is exponential. If we’re in for heavy rain events, and hard ice chunks falling from the sky, evergreen trees might be the smartest rout, perhaps oak too, though in early Spring, most leaflets are young and supple, certainly vulnerable to pelting ice. On the other hand, graupel melts slowly, allowing the water to soak into the soil, as the usual misting like rains of a typical winter used to. Perhaps this is nature’s way of providing some slow down in water retension, as the heavy rains sheet down hillsides and away in stream runoff with little chance of banking into the soil to combat drought prone summers to come. I’d like to think so.

The graupel gathers in low laying areas, like these scallops dug by my chickens in their coop yard this winter. Slow melting lets the water pool up in the divots, then creating perfect micro climates for seed germination. Rain would also pool up in the scallops, but much more of the water would overflow, running down the slope and away from the ground. These ice pellets are subtle in their work, but I think this is the future of spring climate change at EEC here in Western Washington. Snow events are more common too, with at least one major melt each winter, yet another way water is slowed in a freezing and thawing to slow and sink water into the ground. We’ll keep observing the weather changes and witnessing its effect on the landscape around us. At EEC, we’re striving to restore the forest with native growth, while allowing some planting for human use, such as fruit and nut trees and shrubs. Our stewardship can dictate much of the plant life, and even have some influence over animal species present, but the weather shapes its self, and it’s morphing more dramatically than any other time of human documentation.

I’m sure our 40,000 years ago ancestors witnessed similar mass upheavals in climate, with the end of an Ice Age and massive migrations away from the equator. Now, with our established infrastructure and political boundaries, we as a species have stepped out of nature’s rhythm, choosing instead, to dictate with economy, what is our only living home. It is still very much alive, and impassive to our whims, flowing ever into adaptation, while we fidget with our cables and connections on a wireless stream. Flooding, winds, and forest fires will always trump technology. Climate will make refugees of us all, and alter the landscape beyond our recognition. I think only the plants and a few animals are getting the memo, and it’s a lot like that book where the dolphins sing- “So long and thanks for all the fish!”

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