Hailstones the size of meteorologists' heads ...

Friday, April 8, 2011

This is not one of those things I easily admit to, but television weather forecasters fascinate me.

Maybe it's the time of the year that's responsible, what with Indiana and our mutant spring snowfall, tornado warnings or watches and pollen count patterns all vying for TV time.

As much as I enjoy poking fun at them, Indianapolis has its share of excellent meteorologists.

Kevin Gregory is second-generation great. And tall ... if you've ever seen him towering above the crowd at the Avon movie theater or at Stone Creek in Plainfield.

Chris Wright gets a little too giddy in telling us it's going to snow for my taste, but judging by an appearance to promote his novel at Fine Print bookstore a few years back, there is no mystery: He is a great guy.

Angela Buchman? Ah, yes. Instead of asking if Brad Stevens will remain at Butler, they ought to be questioning how she has stayed put in Indianapolis all these years.

Julia Sandstrom (too bad it's not SandSTORM) is too new to review, but has fallen into that Hoosier weather forecasting trap of reminding us to take along our "rain gear" anytime showers are predicted. Honestly, aside from an umbrella, do any of you even own "rain gear"?

And that's not even mentioning the likes of Chuck Lofton, Randy Ollis, Steve Bray, Nicole Misencik and others. Apparently it takes a village to do the weather these days in Indianapolis, where once Bob "Swoop" McLain, Bob Gregory and Stan ("That's a weather whopper!") Wood ruled the weather map.

All this comes to mind after encountering something I had never heard before on a TV weather forecast: Hail described as "the size of ping-pong balls."

Peas, marbles, golf balls, softballs, even meatballs make sense, but ping-pong balls? First of all, how imposing is that? If you've ever been pelted by a hailstone -- ouch! A ping-pong ball? Not so much -- unless you're on the business end of a Forrest Gump smash.

And I wasn't the only one who heard the "ping-pong ball" analogy. Others in the office witnessed the same description with a similar response. So I looked it up. Discovered there actually are official designations for certain-size hail.

Quarter-inch is pea, half-inch is marble, 1.5 inches is walnut, while golfball is 1.75 inches and lime-size hail is the two-inch variety (but seriously, would it fit in a Corona bottle?). Tennis balls (2.5 inches), baseballs (2.75), apples (3 inches, but seriously apples aren't always uniform in size), grapefruit (4 inches) and softballs (4.5 inches) round out the list.

Yet perhaps the most infamous hail designation of all is nowhere on that list.

In a brief 1970s stint as a Channel 13 weatherman in Indianapolis, David Letterman once warned Hoosiers to be on the lookout for "hail the size of canned hams."

And while there is certainly nothing funny about dangerous storms, you have to love Letterman's humor in poking fun at traditional weather forecasts.

My favorite moment, however, was the night the satellite weather map with the superimposed outline of U.S. states had obliterated the boundary between Indiana and Ohio.

Letterman deadpanned that the higher-ups had combined Indiana and Ohio into one super-sized state. "Personally," he said, "I'm against it."

Now that's a weather whopper ...

Eric Bernsee can be reached at 653-5151 ext. 24 or ebernsee@bannergrphic.com.