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Learning with Lindsey: Freezing rain, sleet, snow

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Posted at 4:00 AM, Dec 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-03 05:00:45-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Forecasting the different types of precipitation during the winter season is a challenge because it all depends on the air, ground and atmosphere temperatures.

To make it even more difficult - these temperatures are constantly changing within a storm.

There are four different precipitation types to worry about in the winter.

First, let’s start off with rain.

We’ll always get rain when temperatures are above freezing at the ground and in the atmosphere. The above freezing layer must be thick enough for any snowflakes falling from the cloud to melt as raindrops when it reaches the ground.

Freezing rain, however, is much different. This requires temperatures on the ground to be below 32°F. This means objects such as trees, street signs and light posts will turn icy. This will also result in very slick untreated roads and bridges.

Next, is sleet. And sleet is very interesting because it requires a shallow warm layer that will melt the snowflake just enough to rime with water. As it enters the layer of below-freezing temperatures, the water will re-freeze into an ice pellet before reaching the ground.

The difference between sleet and freezing rain is that sleet pings and freezing rain clings.

Last but not least is snow. We’ll get snow as long as temperatures stay below freezing from the cloud all the way to the ground.

Interestingly, the temperature at the surface will impact how much accumulates.

The closer we are to 32°F the higher the water content, which means more melting and compacting. This would result in less accumulation but still high impact because the heavy, wet snows will weigh down tree limbs and power lines. On the other hand, dry, fluffy snow has less water content and will pile up much higher, resulting in higher snow accumulations.