How big can hail get?

Hail stones vary in size. Most commonly they are 1 cm in diameter but have been observed to be as large as 10 to 15 cm. Hailstones are formed when either aggregated ice ("graupel") or large frozen raindrops grow by collecting cloud droplets with below-freezing temperatures. An important aspect of hail growth is the latent heat of fusion which is released when the collected cloud water freezes. So much liquid water is collected in the process of hail growth that the latent heat released can significantly affect the temperature of the hailstone and make it several degrees warmer than the cloud environment. As long as the temperature of the hailstone remains below 0┬░ C, its surface remains dry and its development is called "dry growth". The heat transfer from the hailstone to the surrounding air, however, is generally too slow to keep up with the release of heat associated with the freezing of the collected cloud drops. Therefore, if a hailstone remains in a supercooled cloud long enough, its temperature can rise to 0┬░ C. At this temperature the collected supercooled droplets no longer freeze immediately upon contact with the hailstone. Although some of the collected water may be lost to the warm hailstone by shedding, a considerable portion can remain to be incorporated into the stone forming a water-ice mesh that is called "spongy hail". This process is called "wet growth". During its lifetime, a hailstone may grow alternately by the dry and wet processes as it passes through air of varying temperature. When hailstones are sliced open, they often exhibit a layered structure, which is evidence of these alternating growth modes. Hailstones need time to grow before they become too heavy and fall to the ground. An empirical relation between the fall velocity of a hailstone and its diameter is given by

V = 9 exp(0.8ln(D)) m/s,

where D is the diameter in cm. Hence a hailstone with a diameter on the order of 15 cm will fall at 75-80 m/s (170-180 miles/hour)!! This implies that updrafts of a comparable magnitude must exist in the cloud to support the hailstones long enough for them to grow. Because of this, hail is found only in very intense thunderstorms. Therefore, hail detection in storms is a clear indicator of their severity.

The GPM DPR has specific channels which can detect frozen particles in general and hail in particular. This helps provide crucial information about storm severity.