BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — Some people in the area may be seeing a unique type of precipitation this winter: Graupel.

But, what is Graupel?

You’ve probably seen Graupel before and never known that it was yet another classification of frozen precipitation. The main difference between all the different types of frozen precipitation is how they grow, and the maximum size they can reach. Many tend to ask what Graupel is. But, what may be more interesting is how Graupel is different from snow, sleet, or hail?

Forms of frozen precipitation. L-R: hail, graupel, sleet, snow.

Graupel is a classification for soft, small pellets. Graupel is commonly called snow pellets or soft hail, as the graupel particles are particularly fragile and generally disintegrate when handled. The pellets form when supercooled water droplets (at a temperature below 32°F) freeze onto a snow crystal, a process called riming. If the riming is particularly intense, the rimed snow crystal can grow to an appreciable size, but remain less than 0.2 inches in diameter. In other words, grauple is snow flake that partially melts before refreezing creating a spherical, frozen droplet.

Unlike graupel, hail forms when a rain drop is caught in an updraft of a strong thunderstorm, freezes, falls back, gets coated in more rain, goes back up into the atmosphere via the updraft, freezes, falls in a repetitive fashion. If you were to cut a hail stone in half, it would look like the multi-layered Jawbreaker candy. As for graupel, it is also mistaken for sleet on occasion, but sleet tends to be sturdier and more thoroughly frozen.

Hail is also usually associated with severe weather. This is not always the case for Graupel, which just needs wintry temperatures to be made.

Graupel has been said to look like riced cauliflower and this gives us a clue as to the origin of the precipitation’s name, “graupel.” The word graupel is Germanic in origin, and is derived from “graupe,” which is the word for pearl barley. The word graupel’s first known association with grainy falling snowflakes, pellets or soft hail, was in 1889 when a weather report used it to describe rimed snow crystal pellets.

If you live somewhere with a lot of snowfall, then you might already know that there are multiple names for it. Wherever you are, you probably are not beating Scotland in different names.

In Scotland, where it snows for about 60 days a year in the highlands, there are 421 commonly known words and phrases used to describe snow crystals. These words range from flindrikin, which means a “slight snow shower,” to snaw-pouther, which describes a “fine but driving snow.”