Hail Roar: Big Hail in Palatine; Did You Hear Constant Rumbling During Sunday Night’s Storm?


Did you hear a constant rumbling or roar in last night’s thunderstorm from about 10:20 p.m. to 10:40 p.m.? There was a sound a little bit like the sound of a freight train (like people say they hear when there is a tornado), but there was no rotation of clouds in the sky and no Tornado Warning issued for Arlington Heights or Palatine.

But heavy rain and large hail up to golf ball size or the size of a quarter was reported in Palatine and northwest Arlington Heights. In the center of Arlington Heights hail was barely a quarter-inch.

A Severe Thunderstorm Warning was issued at 10:14 p.m. The storm brought heavy rain but little cloud-to-ground lightning, and few reports of power outages or downed trees. However, Skokie and neighborhoods on the north side of Chicago had a large number of downed trees.

Thunderstorms with tops at about 40,000 feet had been stable or intensifying since development near Rockford during the hour’s track to the northwest suburbs and Arlington Heights. Predicted hail size was as high as 2.0 inches.

Hail about .25-inch or less was falling in central Arlington Heights about 10:40 p.m.

So what was the strange sound during the thunderstorm? Constant thunder from constant cloud-to-cloud lightning in upper levels of the thunderstorm? Or rotating air in the column of the thunderstorm? Hail crashing together in the clouds?

The roar sounded like part jet engine, part washing machine, part freight train, and part thunder. Initially you might wonder if you were hearing the freight train noise that people describe hearing during a tornado. An observer would realize the constant roar would drown out any quieter thunder. The sound was eerie — sort of a circulating sound, but the clouds weren’t circulating. The roar persisted from about 10:20 p.m. to 10:40 p.m. — non-stop.

In the book A Complete Course of Meteorology (1845), authors Ludwig Friedrich Kämtz, Charles Martins, Léon Louis Chrétien Lalanne write that “some ancient authors, such as Aristotle and Lucretius, have said that a very loud noise is heard when a cloud charged with hail approaches the zenith. Modern observers have confirmed this assertion.”

This noise is neither that of a tempest, nor yet the rolling of thunder; it is sometimes so loud that it drowns that of thunder. Tessier says that he observed this in France, on July 13th, 1788; and Kalm observed it at Moscow, April 30th, 1744. Thienemann asserts that he never heard this noise before the fall of hail; others affirm the contrary. It is probably either due to the hailstones beating against each other, or to the conflict of contrary winds; the latter are often so violent, that the hailstones are transported in a horizontal direction.”

— A Complete Course of Meteorology

Modern storm chasers call it “Hail Roar” although there is no proof that the sound is actually caused by the hail itself. Here are two videos that contain the same sound that was heard Sunday night in Arlington Heights …

Video from the immediate south side of the Hill City, Kansas supercell’s massive hail core. We could hear the storm’s incredible ‘hail-roar’ while it juggled & dumped stones as large as 2.5″ wide just 1.5 miles north of the observers.

May 24, 2010 South Dakota….constant thunder and hail roar.

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