Storm Postmortem: Large hail slams Safford

What the hail?

Late Saturday night, an isolated severe storm produced one of the largest southern Arizona hail events in recent memory. The images from our News 4 Tucson viewers in Safford are staggering.

Above is the Doppler radar loop between 10:45-11:45 PM. During this timeframe, quarter to golf-ball sized hail accumulated on the ground. Many around Safford reported the hail to be 6″ deep in spots! Because of the hail accumulation, rainfall wasn’t able to soak into the ground and widespread flooding occurred.

2016-safford-hail

Two things stood out to me when analyzing this radar cross section. First, cloud tops in the Safford severe storm approached 50,000 feet. That’s impressive considering this occurred after sunset & your average Monsoon storm tops out around 40,000 feet.

Second, the intensity and depth of the hail core. It’s rare when radar returns come back in the purple and white values. In my 9 years of covering southern Arizona weather, I don’t ever recall blue showing up on radar reflectivity. From the looks of things, the hail core dropped out of the clouds from 15-25,000 feet. Very cold air at these levels of the atmosphere.

jeff-2016-hail-potential-explainer

Another catalyst behind the large hail was the speed at which air was rising in the atmosphere. To sustain hailstones the size of quarters and golf-balls, the updraft speed in the storm is equivalent to what you drive on I-10 in Tucson. One of the many factors combining to create the “perfect storm” of sorts in central Graham County.

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