Hail blankets Sacramento - or was it snow? - and social media goes wild

The City of Trees is resilient. Weathered, like the I Street bridge leading across the Sacramento River. Passionate, as seen in the Kings' fan base's successful push to keep the team in town.

And brick by brick, Sacramento will overcome the hail storm that blanketed the city Monday.

The Sierra Nevada felt closer than usual yesterday, as coffee breaks turned into time spent building snowmen and legislators posed with snowballs near Capitol Mall.

Truth is, Monday's weather was only remarkable in it that it fell over densely population regions such as downtown Sacramento, midtown and Natomas. Frozen precipitation typically accumulates at a similar elevation somewhere in the greater Sacramento area every year or two, said Erick Kurth, National Weather Service meteorologist.

"This one was important because of where it happened. If it happened out in middle of the rice fields, very few people would have known," Kurth said. "I’ve been here 11 years and I haven’t seen one hit Sacramento like this before."

So what exactly fell Monday? Some said snow, others said hail and still more said graupel, a phenomenon often referred "snow pellets" or "soft hail" where liquid droplets freeze to snowflakes' exteriors. According to Merrian-Webster dictionary, the word graupel is "Germanic in origin; it is the diminutive of Graupe, meaning "pearl barley."

One Twitter user from Rocklin compared the disagreement to "The Dress" debate that began exactly three years ago Monday, when "blue and black or white and gold?" became the question du jour.

The answer: a mix of hail and graupel , Kurth said. With temperatures in the low 50s during Monday's thunderstorm, snow was never a realistic possibility, though it did fall as low as 2,000 feet in the foothills.

A harsher storm is expected to dump three to five feet of snow in the mountains and an inch or two of rain in the Sacramento Valley from Wednesday night through Saturday, and will likely bury roads even at lower elevations. There's no telling whether Sacramento is in for Round 2 of its fight against Mother Nature, though.

"With things like this, you can't predict it long term because the thunderstorms can be very isolated," Kurth said. "We don’t know exactly where each is going to form, so we can't predict it several days out."

Benjy Egel: (916) 321-1052,

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