John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The three-inch wonders fell Saturday during a severe thunderstorm north of San Francisco.
Most serious hailstones threaten to crack your skull like jumbo-sized jawbreakers shot out of a howitzer.
The ones that fell Saturday during a severe thunderstorm in Tehama County, California, about 150 miles north of San Francisco, are a bit different. With their intimidating armor of spikes, they look like they’d stick right into your head like lawn darts, and then release fountains of blood when you pulled them out.
That wasn’t the only remarkable thing about this hail, though. The starfish-stones, which almost seem composed of grafted icicles, tied the record for largest hail in California set in 1960 in San Diego County. Their diameter was a whopping three inches from spike tip to spike tip, as shown in a photo by Jeff Boyce recently shared by the National Weather Service.
Boyce, a 24-year-old photographer and police officer, tweets the stones dropped during violent weather that also featured a funnel cloud, and that their unusual shapes were “exactly how I found them! Had soft landing on grass & didn’t break up like most.” He explains more via Twitter DM:
California weather isn't boring like most people think. We regularly have tornadoes, hail, major floods, etc. You just have to know where to look. I track major weather events across the country, but even here in the Sacramento Valley for example in the last year alone I have witnessed 3 tornadoes and 5 supercell thunderstorms. This hail however did surprise me, at such an impressive size I'd never seen before in California….
The hail started out at pea size. Then I started seeing some dime-sized stones. Next thing I knew they were larger than quarters. I couldn't believe my eyes when I picked up a couple that were wider than baseballs… especially here in CA. Plus they were blowing sideways in the gusty winds… so I have some bruises just from getting out of the truck to retrieve a couple. Fortunately they were formed in unusual shapes giving them their diameter, and not solid baseball size chunks. That would be much more dangerous and damaging.
Interestingly enough, other hail through the region had similar spiky growths, though on a smaller scale.