UTSA professor's research could predict damaging hailstorms

Stephen Ackley hopes to prevent major damage

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SAN ANTONIO – UTSA geophysicist and professor Stephen Ackley spent almost 30 years working at the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL). He is using his decades of experience studying sea ice and atmospheric conditions in Antarctica and the Arctic in his role as professor at UTSA to try to better understand how hail is formed and to better help predict severe hailstorms.

Ackley has a collection of hailstones gathered from all over San Antonio in his UTSA lab. He said studying the formation of hail parallels his 30-plus years of atmospheric and ice research.

"When these hailstones came down and we started collecting them, we figured out that we could use the same sort of analysis on that," Ackley said.

Ackley has enlisted his students, like Alex Rodriguez, to join him in the study of things such as isotopic behavior and the temperatures at which hail and hailstorms are formed.

They use a device in their UTSA lab called a mass spectrometer.

"Our goal is to see if we can provide some kind of insight for forecasting these kinds of extreme weather patterns," Rodriguez said.

Ackley said one of the motivations for his research focus stems from the fact that he, too, was pummeled by recent storms. He said he has several thousands of dollars in claims to his insurer.

"If we knew it was coming in and going to be big hail, even a few minutes' warning on that could be enough warning to alleviate a lot of the property damage," Ackley said.

For more information on how to prepare in advance for weather emergencies, such as tornadoes and hailstorms, click here.