What Type Of Wintery Weather Will I Get?


One of the more common questions before a winter storm strikes usually centers around whether your area will receive snow, sleet, freezing rain, or a combination of all three. Meteorologist at the National Weather Service continually investigate atmospheric data and computer model forecasts, to forewarn you of any or all of these hazards.

You might be curious as to why one area may get snow, while another location just a half hour away is receiving freezing rain. The key is in the temperatures within the atmosphere, specifically those between the ground and the clouds aloft. The graphic below illustrates the following explanations of precipitation type.

Snow is produced when temperatures are cold both aloft and at the ground. The snow does not melt as it falls, and temperatures at or below 32 degrees near the ground allow it to accumulate.

Sleet is formed when temperatures at or slightly above freezing aloft produce rain that freezes to ice pellets, as it falls into a cold layer of air. Sleet usually bounces when hitting a surface and does not stick to objects. However, it can produce a “sandlike” accumulation like snow.

Freezing rain forms when warm temperatures aloft, generally several degrees above freezing, produces rain that falls onto a surface with temperatures below 32 degrees. This causes the liquid rain to freeze on impact to objects such as trees, power lines, cars and roads forming a coating or glaze of ice. Even a small amount of freezing rain on roads can create a significant travel hazard.

Graphic describing winter weather precipitation types


Weather Mural

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