In January 2007 a claim of 6 inches of sleet in Missouri caused me to research record sleet events (a.k.a. "ice pellets"), which aren't archived by the NWS or mentioned in the book "Extreme Weather." Blog readers responded with a number of stories of incredible sleet accumulation.
The storm on March 3rd, 2014 featured heavy sleet accumulation reports in droves -- a "Slizzard" as one TV station said in 2005. As a result, I looked further into the data to determine if this was a record sleet storm (the photo below is from Clarksville, Tenn.).
I have access to NWS records back to only 2006, and many of the records were actually reports of snow instead (apparently it's easy to hit the Sleet button when NWS submits their storm reports). I ruled out nearly 200 such reports, because the word "Sleet" wasn't in the comments, the comments indicated it was actually a snow report, or the accumulation was "mixed" or "mostly."
That left 26 reports of more than 4 inches of sleet in three states (Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri) from last week's storm, 20 or more of which could easily be confirmed as valid (because the reports were in the same states as the others, they are probably mostly accurate). That's twice the 10 reports in the eight years prior! Of course, the number of spotter reports is increasing as there are more spotters in more places, but this still seems too much of an increase to blame on that. Another 22 reports from March 3 were for 3 inches or more of sleet, including Kentucky.
(PHOTO: Close-up of sleet)
Just to make sure, I did a Google search again. In addition to the NWS reporting problem, a bad set of newspaper translations on Google also caused confusion when translating "snow" to "sleet." Between this problem and the NWS misfiling reports, this proved to not be an easy task.
(VIDEO: Henry and I "chase" a sleet storm on Dec. 13, 2007, here in State College, Pa.)
I also checked the NCDC database but came up empty for Sleet reports. Putting all available blog, internet and Local Storm Reports (since '06) together... we see 48 reports of sleet accumulation of 4 inches or more. Of those, *25* are from the March 3, 2014, event! I think we can say that, if that event didn't include the highest reports in history, it was certainly the most widespread. And it did include the second-highest official spotter report (that was in my database from 2006 forward).
(PHOTO: Sleet storm in 2008 at AccuWeather HQ)
From what I've been able to surmise, the major sleet storms stack up like this (in chronological order):
Feb. 11, 1994: 6-9 inches of sleet in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. NWS website (Storm Reports not available) says 7 inches but other reports say up to 9 inches.
Jan. 27-28, 2009: 4-5 inches of sleet in Oklahoma, Missouri and Illinois.
Feb. 2, 2011: 4-4.2 inches of sleet in Illinois and Indiana.
March 3, 2014: 4-6 inches of sleet in Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee. Most widespread deep sleet, with 25 spotter reports!
If we look at individual reports, the top five sleet amounts are as follows:
9 inches: Feb. 11, 1994, west of Frederick County, Md.
8 inches: Feb. 16, 1987, Person and Granville counties, North Carolina.
7 inches: Multiple locations (1885 - Kansas, 1950, 1994, 2005 - Pennsylvania and Maryland)
6 inches: Multiple locations and dates, but four reports from Tennessee and Arkansas March 3, 2014
Below is the entire list:
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