Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Hailstone Shape

Name: Tim
Status: educator
Grade: 9-12
Country: South Africa
Date: Fall 2011

My question relates to a Hailstorm in Somerset West, near Cape Town, South Africa, on Sunday 13 November 2011. Many of the hailstones were about 1 cm in diameter. The shape was interesting. In cross section, try to imagine a parachutist descending - dome shape on top and pointed at the bottom. I have never seen any reference to this shape of hailstone before. I wondered if the hailstones started falling as spheres and as they fell, friction sharpened the underside to a point. I always thought that hailstones tumbled on their way down but it seems as if I might be wrong. I should be interested in your comments


Hailstones normally form in concentric spheres as rain accumulates and freezes on the frozen hail stone.

What you MIGHT be seeing is:

Liquid rain at upper levels fall through a layer of freezing air, freezing into your domed shaped hailstones before they fall to the ground.

Sincere regards, Mike Stewart

Hail stones form from multiple falling and rising in turbulent air. If the air is very turbulent and Strong enough that there are many cycles, hail stones can be large and even jagged. I would guess a parachute shape could occur if either "up" or "down" differed greatly in The number of cycles.

Vince Calder


The shape you describe is unusual!

It seems possible that round hailstones were falling through warm air and melting on the bottom, resulting in the point, but this would also imply that they were not tumbling as they fell. So perhaps they were somewhat pointed when they first started falling and therefore were somewhat aerodynamic, preferentially falling with the point down.

That is my educated guess.

David R. Cook Meteorologist Climate Research Section Environmental Science Division Argonne National Laboratory

Click here to return to the Weather Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory