NASA’s high-flying ER-2 aircraft flew high overhead, several supercell thunderstorms rumbled along the border between North and South Carolina and dropped significant amounts of hail.
Much of the hail on that evening of May 23, 2014, was quarter-sized, but the strongest storms unloaded chunks of ice as large as baseballs, according to National Weather Service staff in Columbia, South Carolina. Observers on the ground documented the hail.
Photograph courtesy of Stu Broce and the Integrated Precipitation and Hydrology Experiment team. Caption by Adam Voiland, with information from releases by Beth Hagenauer and Ellen Gray.
During the flight, pilot Stu Broce took this photograph of the overshooting top of a storm over North Carolina. For perspective, the storm was about 50,000 feet (15,000 meters) tall, while the ER-2 cruised at an altitude of 65,000 feet (20,000 meters). (Commercial airliners usually fly at about 30,000 feet or 9,000 meters.) Overshooting tops are dome-like protrusions at the top of thunderstorms that provide evidence of very strong updrafts. Severe storms tend to have larger and longer-lived overshooting tops than less intense storms.
The ER-2 flight was part of the Integrated Precipitation and Hydrology Experiment (IPHEx), a field campaign designed to improve understanding of precipitation over mountainous terrain. IPHEx was one part of an ongoing, broad effort to validate and calibrate observations from the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission, an international program led by NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.