Opinion: Snowballs from heaven

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Commentary by Ward Degler

We had an exciting snowball fight last Saturday. Remember? It was raining all day and then late afternoon it started snowing – huge flakes, blinding and windswept.

That’s when it started. Something started pelting our roof, hard-hitting whumps. At first we thought it was an animal in the attic. It had happened before, a family of raccoons.

This was different. We were getting hit everywhere. It would have to be 100 raccoons.

At the patio door I looked out, and then I saw it. Snowballs, from golf ball dimensions to the size of tennis balls. It was like an artillery barrage. The snowballs smashed onto the roof and exploded in puffs of white powder.

I’d never seen anything like it. Never even heard of such a thing. On Google I explored meteorology sites and came up with a number of strange weather things. Snow rollers occur when you have wet snow in super-cooled air and wind. Ice pellets freeze to snow flakes, hit the ground and start rolling in the breeze, growing larger, sometimes to basketball size. We do the same thing on a smaller scale when we build a snowman.

Snow rollers got world-wide attention a number of years ago in Siberia. Acres of giant balls of snow packed together on the frozen beach.

Two years ago, the shore of Lake Michigan was littered with tennis ball-size, ice-covered snowballs. The National Snow & Ice Data Center, a nonprofit in Boulder, Colo. that keeps an eye on Arctic and Antarctic weather, describes a phenomenon called graupel, ice pellets that freeze onto giant snowflakes and create marbles of ice.

But no one says anything about snowballs raining down from above. Later in the evening after the snow had stopped, I looked outside. There were several inches of snow on the ground, all of it deeply pockmarked.

I’m no stranger to freaky weather. I’ve mowed my lawn on Memorial Day in Minnesota in a snowstorm. You can’t begin to imagine what grass clippings mixed with snow taste like when the wind whips them into your face.

I’ve seen the aftermath of a hailstorm in the sand hills of Nebraska. The hail came down in stones the size of baseballs, and literally tore the roof from my son-in-law’s ranch house.

I’ve had my wristwatch magnetized to a dead standstill as I drove through a town that had just been ripped apart by a tornado. In the same town I saw a terrified but otherwise uninjured cow in a tree, and a wheat straw driven like a nail through a fence post.

But until last Saturday, I’ve never been under attack by snowballs from heaven.

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