Graupel (German pronounciation: ['gʁaʊpɛl], also called soft hail or snow pellets) refers to precipitation that forms when supercooled droplets of water are collected and freeze on a falling snowflake, forming a 2–5 mm (0.079–0.197 in) ball of rime. Strictly speaking, graupel is not the same as hail or ice pellets.
While graupel is sometimes referred to as small hail, the World Meteorological Organization defines small hail as snow pellets encapsulated by ice, a precipitation halfway between graupel and hail.
The term graupel is the German word for the described meteorological phenomenon. Its METAR code is GS.
In meteorology, precipitation (also known as one of the classes of hydrometeors, which are atmospheric water phenomena) is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapour that falls under gravity. The main forms of precipitation include drizzle, rain, sleet, snow, graupel and hail. Precipitation occurs when a local portion of the atmosphere becomes saturated with water vapour, so that the water condenses and "precipitates". Thus, fog and mist are not precipitation but suspensions, because the water vapour does not condense sufficiently to precipitate. Two processes, possibly acting together, can lead to air becoming saturated: cooling the air or adding water vapour to the air. Generally, precipitation will fall to the surface; an exception is Virga which evaporates before reaching the surface. Precipitation forms as smaller droplets coalesce via collision with other rain drops or ice crystals within a cloud. Rain drops range in size from oblate, pancake-like shapes for larger drops, to small spheres for smaller drops. Unlike raindrops, snowflakes grow in a variety of different shapes and patterns, determined by the temperature and humidity characteristics of the air the snowflake moves through on its way to the ground. While snow and ice pellets require temperatures close to the ground to be near or below freezing, hail can occur during much warmer temperature regimes due to the process of its formation.