What are the different winter precipitation types?

Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 10:20 AM MST
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — With winter weather comes many different hazards, including dangers associated with different types of winter precipitation. Of course, the precipitation we most associate winter with is snow.

For snow to occur, temperatures need to be cold enough. That temperature is 32 degrees Fahrenheit, or 0 degrees Celsius - the point of freezing for water. If that temperature doesn’t occur, other precipitation types will fall.

Like all things with the weather though, winter systems are quite complicated. Southerly winds often bring warmer temperatures north above a layer of cooler temperatures. This can cause more complex precipitation types such as sleet and freezing rain.

Sleet occurs when a little sliver of warmer air is brought to the upper levels of the atmosphere. This allows snow that’s originally falling to briefly melt to rain before refreezing once it encounters colder air below it.

Once it does encounter colder air, the rain refreezes into tiny little ice pellets known as sleet. Sleet is often mistaken for hail since there is ice falling from the sky, but that’s actually not the case. Hail only typically occurs in the spring or summertime in thunderstorms.

Sleet is not a big disrupter because of the lack of slipperiness that occurs with this precipitation type. However, the next precipitation type we’re going to talk about, freezing rain, is a rather big disruptor.

Freezing rain occurs when a much wider area of warmer air goes over a layer of colder air near the surface. This allows the snow to melt into rain. The surface, being colder than freezing, allows that rain to freeze right on contact, making the roads virtually an ice rink.

This can also cause power line issues with weight and black ice. When you have freezing rain, you have to be careful on the roads as the roads could be very slippery.

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