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Winter Weather Preparedness Week: Understanding The Different Types of Winter Precipitation

Published: Nov. 18, 2021 at 10:46 AM CST
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PEORIA (Heart of Illinois ABC) - Yesterday, we broke down what wind chill is and how to protect yourself against the cold during the winter season.

Today, we’re discussing the different types of winter precipitation. When you hear winter precipitation, you will probably think of snow. But did you know that there are a few other types of precipitation we see during winter time?

Most winter precipitation actually begins as snow. This is because the top layer of storm clouds are cold enough to create snowflakes. Snowflakes are a collection of frozen ice crystals that cling together as they fall to the ground. The more ice crystals that cling together, the bigger the snowflake. As these crystals fall, they will remain as snow as long remain at or below the freezing point (32 degrees Fahrenheit) from the base of the cloud to the ground. Snow can come in different levels of intensity. Light snow will be seen as flurries, where heavy snowfalls can result in snow squalls or blizzards.

Courtesy of the National Weather Service
Courtesy of the National Weather Service(HOIABC)

Sleet is the next type of winter precipitation. It occurs when snowflakes partially melt on the way to the surface. This occurs due to a warm layer within the cloud or atmosphere were temperatures are above freezing. On the way down, the ice crystals begin to melt before rapidly refreezing once it meets colder air again in a deep layer of cold air. Sleet often bounces when it reaches the ground, as it is essentially a frozen raindrop.

Courtesy of the National Weather Service
Courtesy of the National Weather Service(HOIABC)

Last we have freezing rain, which is often times the most costly type of winter precipitation. Freezing rain storms are capable of shutting down roadways entirely along with create widespread power outages. Like sleet, freezing rain initially begins as a snowflake. The different is that the ice crystals completely melt on the way down before refreezing. When freezing rain occurs, the cold layer near the surface isn’t warm enough to completely refreeze the raindrop. Rather, the drops are “supercooled,” meaning they instantly freeze when they come in contact with anything that is below freezing. This is why we often see power lines, trees and cars in a frozen “glaze” in freezing rain events.

Courtesy of the National Weather Service
Courtesy of the National Weather Service(HOIABC)

Make sure to check back in Friday for the final day of Winter Weather Preparedness Week where we will discuss the dangers associated with ice storms!

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