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Does Hail Mean A Tornado Is Coming?

Golf ball-sized hail

That was literally the question I was asked during a recent Q&A during a severe weather safety presentation I made to an engaged group of seniors in Buford, GA.

The answer, quite frankly is – “maybe”. I wasn’t trying to be coy or evasive. However, as in real estate, the answer depends on location.

Here is an enlarged view of the radar image above showing the tell-tale “hook” signature of a tornado. It’s one of things that as a meteorologist, I look for when determining if a storm contains a tornado:

tornado hook ID

Typical “hook” signature on radar indicating a tornado

In most mature super-cell thunderstorms like this one, the incredible updrafts are lofting copious amounts of moisture thousands of feet into the air. There, they freeze and grow until they overcome the updraft and fall as hail stones, sometimes achieving the size of golf balls or larger.

tornado hail

Usual location of hail in a supercell thunderstorm

To the right is the favored location of hail in these kind of storms.

So, if the tornado is moving toward the hail, then yes, you would experience hail followed by the destructive, twisting winds of the tornado. Not a welcome combination.

However, if you are located where the white circle is (the radar site) and the tornado is moving toward you, then the hail core would pass north of you and all you would experience is the tornado.

One of the reasons I make presentations to civic, community and business groups is that people have questions about the weather and extreme weather is fascinating. Naturally, as human beings, we are all curious about the “why”; I’m no different and I may not always have the answer. But it is in the seeking that I learn more.

Gene Norman is a meteorologist representing WeatherCall, a national weather service company. Residing in Atlanta, he is available to make weather safety presentations and may be reached at gene.norman@weathercall.net.


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