the popular comparison with golfballs - think grapefruit.
In June of 2003 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
reported a 7-inch diameter hailstone fell in Aurora, Nebraska. It's
circumference was recorded at 18.75 inches, beating out the 17.5 inch
World Record which had been held (tightly) by Coffeyville, Kansas
since September 3, 1970. But since hailstones challenging the world's
record need to be sent to the Boulder, Colorado laboratory for verification,
there's no telling how much weight, diameter or circumference was
lost in transit.
The Coffeyville stone, however, weighed in at 1.67 pounds while the
Nebraska entry was an anemic 1.3 pounds. The truth is: no one cares
about circumference. When was the last time you heard a fisherman
brag about catching a 16-inch circumference bass?
Coffeyvillains must be detail-oriented folk. How else can you explain
their locating someone who could estimated that the Coffeyville 'stone
struck the earth (and thankfully no one's head) at 105 MPH. No one
reported the speed of the Nebraska stone, so Coffeyville (for now)
can also claim the World's Fastest Hailstone.
But who knows how long that particular record will last? The intense
desire to hold any hailstone record plus the quantum advances in modern
radar detection have led some communities in the Great Plains to ask
the help of local law enforcement personnel (formerly known as police
or state troopers) in measuring the speed of descending hailstones.
(If you are driving through the Great Plains and see a police car
with the window cracked and a radar gun pointed skyward, you'll now
know what's going on - just don't look up.)
Those of you who know your Kansas geography will remember that Coffeyville
is just a (hail)stone's throw from Missouri - whose nickname "The
Show-Me State" has been irritating people for over 150 years. Kansans
are used to having to show proof to their skeptical neighbors, so
they took the added precaution of having a replica made of the hailstone.
The replica is on display at Coffeyville's Dalton Defender's museum
- not far from the dead outlaw effigies.
In the states that comprise the Great Plains, hailstone spotting is
one of the fastest growing activities for "young and old alike." Immediately
after a hailstorm, helmeted aficionados can be seen running outside
- even before the "all clear" warning is announced - hoping to find
a contender for the world record.
Lionel Trane of What's-our-name, Texas was thought to be a shoe-in
back in 1999 with a hailstone thought to be a two-pounder. But while
driving to Boulder he placed the stone in an ice chest to chill some
room temperature malt liquor. Upon arrival it was little more than
your common refrigerator-variety ice cube. He returned to a village
of dashed hopes, disappointed neighbors and eventually had to leave
of all Hailstones
But the largest
hailstone ever imagined fell (with some help) in Texas sometime in
the 1930s or 40s. It was featured in Robert Ripley's popular syndicated
newspaper column and it's a most unusual, amusing and thoroughly believable
occurrence - once you're given all the facts.
It seems that one gray and rainy day a traveling salesman (let's call
him Earl) checked into the Raleigh hotel or another well-known Waco
hostelry. As he checked in, he asked the bellhop to bring a block
of ice and some ginger ale up to his room. (A common request for the
time - when half-pints of beverage alcohol outsold all other sized
bottles combined.) The ice was placed in the sink and after tipping
the bellhop, Earl looked out at the battleship-gray sky that was fast
turning black. As he watched, pea-sized hail started falling and then
dime-sized hailstones. Soon it was quarter-sized and there were even
a few stones of the (extremely rare) thirty-five cent-sized variety.
The Wacoans who had sought shelter under the hotel's awning started
gathering the ice marbles as they rolled within reach - marveling
at the icy jewels.
Earl (now well into his second cocktail) decided to have some fun.
If the locals appreciated hailstones - he was just the guy to give
them one they'd remember. He rounded the rest of his block of ice
under the hot water faucet and gently lobbed the nine-pound sphere
into the street.
The people below were more than appreciative. They rushed out and
picked it up as if it were a baby. They knew a world record when they
saw it and within minutes a newspaper reporter was nervously stepping
out of a taxi - running into the lobby before another nine-pound ice-meterorite
could bury itself in his head.
Earl, anxious to see the disappointment on so many faces, went downstairs
and fessed-up. But no one was buying the truth when the fiction was
so much sweeter.
Caught up in the excitement, even the bellhop forgot that he had brought
ice to this man who was now frantically trying to admit to a hoax.
The newspaper bought it - Ripley's bought it - and throughout WWII
servicemen from McLennan
County were telling the story of Waco's
nine-pound hailstone from Rome to Okinawa. Only Earl knew the truth
- but who wants to believe a salesman - especially when he's got liquor
on his breath?
For anyone who wants to wade through ten years of yellowed newsprint
- the story is there in the Waco
public library - somewhere between 1939 and 1948.
Note: I have just two words for Coffeyville, Kansas: Hailstone Festival.
Drinks could be chilled by hailstone replicas, and pea-sized colored
hailstones could be thrown to the crowds below from women secured
to the wings of vintage biplanes. Just let me have the Iced-Coffey
"They shoe horses,
May 20, 2005 column
© John Troesser
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