Weather Wednesday: Sleet vs. freezing rain, what’s the difference?

Weather Wednesday

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — This weekend we saw a system sweep through the region and we got some snow and rain, but we also saw two types of precipitation that are often mistaken for one another- sleet and freezing rain.

Sleet and freezing rain form in very similar ways, at the base of the cloud, both start out as snow. But there are small differences that occur in the atmosphere that end up making a big difference.

With sleet, you’ll notice that as the snowflakes fall throughout the atmosphere, they are sandwiched in between cold and warm layers of air.

So, as it falls the precipitation briefly warms before refreezing again prior to hitting the ground.

Sleet is also sometimes referred to as “ice pellets” because as they make contact with things such as the road or your car, you can see them bounce off of those various surfaces.

When looking at freezing rain, you’ll notice it is very similar.

The difference is that the warm layer of air in the atmosphere is larger, and the cooler layer of air at the bottom is smaller, meaning the droplets don’t have as much time to refreeze before hitting the ground.

Now, although sleet and freezing rain are similar in many ways, their impacts can be very different.

For one, sleet is less likely to stick to surfaces, but freezing rain can stick to or freeze onto surfaces that have a temperature below 32 degrees.

Freezing rain can create a thin layer of ice on the roads, creating hazardous driving conditions, or it can freeze to power lines increasing the likelihood of power outages.

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