Every winter, we encounter situations in which the forecast calls for a “wintry mix”; this usually means some combination of snow, ice and plain rain. Is this just the weather person hemming and hawing, unable to make up their mind about what will fall from the sky? Or is there something more scientific, even informative, about this term?
While the distinction between snow and rain is understood by everyone, there are various forms of precipitating ice, which can be confusing.
Sleet is a term that describes tiny, opaque pellets of ice that literally “ping” when the ice grains bounce off windows. Sleet creates a white layer on the ground that crunches as you walk on it.
Freezing rain is precipitation that remains liquid until the drops strike a below-freezing surface, accumulating into a translucent sheet of extremely slick, glaze ice.
Whether we get snow, rain, sleet or freezing rain depends on layers of temperature in the lowest several thousand feet of the atmosphere. Subfreezing air is needed for the solid forms of precipitation to form, i.e. snow and ice, whereas milder temperatures above 32 degrees initiate plain rain.
Meteorologist Brittney Merlot explains the how above and below freezing airmass's slice through a particular column of air and can change the precipitation type back and fourth. Plus, details on what we can expect as we cruise into the weekend.