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Huge hail the size of a cantaloupe could be a Texas record

An extremely rotating thunderstorm dropped melon-sized hail and spawned a tornado in the Texas Panhandle on Sunday, part of a larger episode of severe weather that brought storms all the way to North Dakota. One of the hailstones was at least six inches in diameter, if not larger, and could have been declared a Texas state record.

The rock was recovered by Val and Amy Castor, storm chasers with News 9 in Oklahoma City. The couple found the stone about 10 miles northwest of the Mackenzie Reservoir in rural Swisher County, Texas, three miles northwest of Vigo Park.

They took pictures of a spiky hailstone next to a can of Monster Energy, which, if it’s a standard can, is 6 inches long. Val Castor later posted on Facebook that the stone was “conservatively” at least eight inches long. If the stone approaches an area of ​​three inches, it could qualify as a state record.

The Texas record is a 6-inch hailstone recovered on April 28, 2021, near Hondo, west of San Antonio. It doesn’t come close to the eight-inch hailstone the size of a bowling ball that crashed to the ground near Vivian, SD, on July 23, 2010. It weighed almost two pounds.

The National Weather Service in Lubbock is investigating the newly discovered hailstone.

It was a banner week for hail in West Texas. The National Weather Service issued a first-of-its-kind severe thunderstorm warning last Tuesday, citing “DVD-sized hail” as a threat, as rocks 4 to 6 inches in diameter fell near the small town of Pettit, west of Lubbock.

Meteorologist Matthew Cappucci collected grapefruit-sized hail in Pettit, Texas, on May 28. (Video: Matthew Cappucci)

Sunday’s hail was even larger and falls into the elite category of “giant” hail. That’s a real term scientists use to describe any hail larger than six inches in diameter.

How does such a large hail form?

The production of giant hail requires exceptional uplift forces in thunderstorms that can hold up a large hailstone as more ice layers build up on it. Once a rock becomes too heavy for an updraft to keep it aloft, it plummets toward Earth at speeds often exceeding 100 miles per hour.

In the case of Sunday’s hail, excessive instability or storm fuel led to explosive development of thunderstorms. Warm, moist air likely rose at speeds of more than 110 miles per hour for a time, lifting rocks weighing between a half and three-quarters of a pound.

The storm that produced that monstrous hail

The storm that fueled that hail also produced a scenic tornado northwest of Silverton in the southern Texas Panhandle. A second twister briefly accompanied it.

Steve Thompson, a meteorologist with the Oklahoma Mesonet, was hunting storms and happened to capture the storm from a wide angle near Palo Duro Canyon.

“I came out of the canyon yesterday with my jaw on the ground,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “I thought it would take a while for (the rotation) to end and produce a tornado, so I hung a little bit to the east to keep the structure in sight.”

The storm had derived some rotation from a remnant outflow boundary, or from the leading edge of cool air exhaust left by the previous day’s storms. But the changing winds with altitude helped transform the storm into a spinning top, as evidenced by the barber pole updraft visible in Thompson’s photo.

“Just an incredible combination of storm structure and tornado,” he wrote. “This is by far my favorite photo.”

Sunday’s storms also produced a tornado south of Fort Stockton, Texas; heavy winds in western Nebraska; and another tornado west of Faith, SD. A few tornadoes and landspouts — tornadoes that start as winds near the ground and are stretched vertically by upward thunderstorms — were also reported in eastern North Dakota.

In total, more than 150 cases of severe weather were reported.

Additional strong to severe thunderstorms, mainly squall lines with high winds, are expected Monday in northeastern Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and western Louisiana. One or two tornadoes cannot be ruled out along the western border of Oklahoma and Texas, again due to rotation along the outlet boundary of a remnant thunderstorm.

More storms are likely in Kansas City, Omaha and Des Moines on Tuesday before calmer weather develops in the Lower 48 through Wednesday.