Adventures in ACE XV: Oh, Hail, They’re Full of Sleet

I doubt anything will top the hilarity that ensued when the ACE writers got snowed by a perpetual motion machine peddler, but it’s still ACE, so we know they’ll get something drastically wrong. They’ve already rather lost the thread. We’re in a section called Structure of the Hydrosphere. We are supposedly talking about the hydrologic cycle. But the ACE folks have gotten so caught up int he various aspects of precipitation that they’ve rather forgotten about that whole cycle thing. It’s kind of like talking about forest succession by getting hung up on the details of a few specific trees.

Perhaps it’s because they got muddled by the magnetic snowflakes.

Anyway, after God’s washed everybody white as (presumably magnetic) snow, Ace’s dad tells us that sometimes all that condensed moisture is warm enough to make rain, but if it falls through a cold layer of air, it might become sleet. Like a good red-blooded American, he defines sleet as “tiny pellets of ice.” None of this British partially-melted snow nonsense.

Ace wants to know what the difference between sleet and hail is, so Mr. Virtueson (gawd, these names kill me) tells him some basic facts, like “Hail is often formed during violent updrafts of warm, moist air.” Then he makes it sound like hailstorms are part of a similar but different process than thunderstorms, which is a little sort of misleading: you can have hail without thunder, but it’s all coming from basically the same type of storm clouds. Then he says hail starts as a sleet pellet, which… no. It doesn’t. Sleet’s more of a winter storm thing, and is rather bigger than the teeny-tiny ice crystal that forms the condensation nuclei of a hailstone. And the hailstones aren’t necessarily traveling up and down within the cloud: we now know they may get their layers by traveling through different zones within the cloud. I’ll give the fictional Mr. Virtueson a break on the up-and-down thing, though, because PACE 1087 hasn’t been revised since 1986. Yep. Sure is some great modern edimication thar.

In keeping with ACE’s awful diagram tradition, their illustration of a thundercloud makes it look like hail only ever bounces from the top of the storm.

Image is a drawing of a thunder cloud, showing the areas of updrafts, downdrafts, and the freezing level. Light rain and heavy rain are shown coming from the bottom. Hail is shown by arrows flying from the top.
Diagram of a thunderhead from ACE PACE 1087.

The reality is most often quite a bit more mundane, although apparently the LP supercells may heave their hail out the top and end up launching it a few miles, even. Neato. But, usually, it just drops out the bottom.

Image is a computer-generated model of a supercell thunder cloud, showing its basic anatomy. Hail is shown coming from the bottom, along with the heavy rain.
Supercell diagram courtesy Kelvinsong (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Next, we’re treated to some hailstorm trivia, where Ace gets to show off his homeschool hots by remembering a storm in India in 1888 that killed over 240 people. Yes, children, it is vicious stuff. I’m surprised Mr. Virtueson doesn’t remind everyone that God hurls the biggest hailstones of all.

Mr. Virtueson then goes on to show off his knowledge of frost. It actually appears he hasn’t got any. He describes it thusly: “If the temperature is above freezing, the condensed moisture is called ‘dew.’ If the temperature is below freezing, the condensed moisture freezes and is called ‘frost.'” Nope. He’s just described atmospheric icing, pretty much. Frost goes straight from vapor to ice without passing the liquid phase.

The ACE writers suddenly remember that they’re supposed to be talking about the hydrologic cycle, so they have Mr. Virtueson abruptly announce, without pausing for breath, that all this evaporated water condensing into clouds and precipitating upon the ground means “the hydrologic cycle is complete.” He then informs us that temperature is important because “heat from the sun speeds up evaporation.” I had the impression that the sun’s loving rays were the very engine of this whole cycle, but apparently, in Christianist world, it just sort of helps things along.

Mr. Virtueson’s happy to inform us that warm air means clouds can hold more water, then their water falls as rain when the cloud cools. It’s a little more complicated than that, but like most Real True Christians™, he’s anxious to skip ahead to the death and destruction. He’s morbidly happy to tell us that lotsa rain can make rivers or lakes overflow and flood stuff. He jumps right into the mayhem of the Johnstown Flood (including a handy pronunciation guide for those who may not realize how to moosh together the words Johns and town). He lovingly lingers on the more than 2,000 drowned folk and the 1000+ missing people who were never found, plus all that luscious property damage. And he then lustily describes the even worse property damage from flooding in New York and Pennsylvania in 1972. Three billion dollars’ worth of property damaged or destroyed! “More than 15,000 people lost their homes”! You can practically hear him salivating, even though his delivery is desert-dry.

A handy “Facts from Science” box informs us of further water woe, sharing the records for rainfall. They get heaviest in a year right (Cherrapunji, India), but screw the pooch with an old, mistaken amount for heaviest 24 hour rainfall cited in the Monthly Weather Review for 1965. The actual value is 71.8″ that fell on the Foc-Foc Plateau on Réunion Island on January 7 and 8, 1966. Hey, at least they got the island right, and they were only off by a decade and a few inches of rain. And yes, we can definitely see how accurate and up-to-date they are. Marvel, people. Simply marvel.

Of course, you already know why they’re lavishing so much time on flooding:

“Even though local flooding does occur in some areas, I’m certainly glad God promised never again to destroy the entire Earth with water,” said Ace.

“I am too, Ace. Though flooding reminds us of God’s judgement, the Lord promises a flood of blessing to those who give to His service. Malachi 3:10 declares, ‘Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.'”

That, my friends, is Christianist science right there. But, just in case folks don’t realize all that Bible talk is really-real science that completely belongs in a science textbook, Mr. Virtueson endeth with this lesson:

“In ancient times, men recognized the hydrologic cycle as one of the natural processes God had placed upon Earth for man’s survival. ‘He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds; and the cloud is not rent under them’ (Job 26:8). ‘For he maketh small the drops of water: they pour down rain according to the vapour thereof: Which the clouds do drop and distil upon man abundantly’ (Job 36:27, 28).”

They must’ve been so excited to find the King James Version babbling about “vapour,” as it sounds so properly scientific. Alas for them, the NRSV, which is rather more faithful to the original language, renders it as “mist.”

It’s rather fitting to close this section with the words of a blowhard asshole extolling God’s glories to a poor sod who’s just been sorely abused by same. If there is a god, I know he’s a sadistic shit I’ll be very annoyed with. Never mind all that flooding he caused or allowed: he let this ACE PACE come into existence. I think that’s proof enough of his psychopathic tendencies. And no, I won’t be at all surprised if it turns out that the entire ACE curriculum was the result of a bet between him and Satan.

Image is an engraved image from Gustave Doré's English Bible showing Job, dressed in a few rags and looking very scrawny, arguing with his friends.
“Job speaks with his friends.” Engraving by Gustave Doré.

Next time, we shall be learning somewhat about the oceans. Oh, goody. Apologies to the fans of horrid under-the-sea-exploration machines, but I’m afraid Mr. Virtueson’s creators haven’t got enough imagination to create something like that. I suggest you stock up on your happy drugs of choice. All the better if they’re stimulants, as Mr. Virtueson’s virtue is not in his storytelling abilities.

 

*Holy shinoozles, Batman! I about lost my shit when I saw that Cilaos, the city touted in this PACE as being the record-holder for 24-hour rainfall, is in a caldera on an active volcanic island. I was all, “Oh, no, you didn’t!” Happily, they selected the extinct caldera to situate it in. This is excellent good news, as it would truly suck for the town to wake up one morning in a lava lake. Of course, that would’ve given whole hot buckets of new significance to the meaning of the town’s name, which is “the place one never leaves.”

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Adventures in ACE XV: Oh, Hail, They’re Full of Sleet

5 thoughts on “Adventures in ACE XV: Oh, Hail, They’re Full of Sleet

  1. rq
    1

    If hail always comes out the top of the stormcloud, why were there hail pellets on my lawn yesterday? Explain THAT, ACE weathermen!
    Also, isn’t sleet more of a combination of (freezing) rain and hail? At least, I always need clarifiation on sleet vs. freezing rain, not sleet vs. hail. Those two seem clear enough. Anyway, I see via your link that I’m more or less right. But I have to say, that rain/ice pellet combination that is sleet is, seriously, one of the most evil things a supposedly benign creator could have come up with. True misery, is sleet. Walking in it, anyhow.

  2. 3

    As a resident of the Puget Regions, Dana is presumably aware that the natives here say “hail” when the get sleet. That’s because they’ve never seen actual hail. If I recall correctly, the official distinction is something like 5mm.

  3. 4

    OK, I confess – I’ve been guilty of teaching an outdated model of hail formation, too. Thanks for setting me straight, Dana.
    As far as the rest of it, I am again in awe of your ability to plow through this crap without having your brain melt.

  4. rq
    5

    Weird. I’ve always mentally attached liquid precipitation to sleet, as opposed to frozen-only particles for hail (of any size, really). Very interesting!

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