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Rain, Sleet or Snow! Who wants to know...how they form?

Meteorologist Kevin Arnone:Friend me on Facebook by searching: Meteorologist Kevin Arnone. Or tweet with me using the handle: @Kevin_Arnone. You can even follow me on Instagram, just search MeteorologistKevinArnone

We see an array of precipitation across Connecticut. As a matter of fact, we will likely see 4 of the 5 types today into tomorrow. Although most residents along the shoreline will just see rain, many folks who live away from the water will be blasted with freezing rain, sleet and even some snow.

Even though here at the surface we're seeing different types of precipitation, did you know that almost all precipitation starts as snow? Think of it like this, just like we see different temperatures from town to town, the atmosphere also has different temperatures as you go higher in the sky. Usually as you move higher in the atmosphere, you encounter colder temperatures.

Have you even been to Seattle and seen Mount Rainier in the summer time? Even though it's in the 70s at the surface, the peak of Rainier is capped with snow. The peak being over 14,000 FT, it's typically always below 32°F!  When precipitation forms up in the sky, it's usually below freezing and snow forms. So let's take a look at why we see different types of precipitation at the surface even though it all starts as snow.

Rain:

When it rains, even in the summer time it could start as snow. High in the sky, a little snowflake starts to fall towards the surface and as it does, it hits a layer in the atmosphere that's above 32°F. From that moment on, all layers remain above 32°F all the way to the surface and the snowflake melts into a rain droplet and falls to the surface as rain!

Snow:

When it snows, all layers of the atmosphere need to be below 32°F. The snowflake will start high up in the sky and gradually fall towards the surface. As long as at no point the temperatures climbs above 32°F, snow will fall to the ground and begin to accumulate.

On a side note, it is possible for us to see snow when the surface temperatures are slightly above 32°F. Keep in mind, snow is falling quickly from thousands of feet up in the atmosphere and if just the last several hundred feet are slightly above 32°F, the snowflake doesn't have enough time to melt. Now it may not accumulate as quickly or even at all but hey, it's still snowing :)

Sleet:

Sleet is an interesting one and normally happens in the colder winter months, especially here in Connecticut. Snow falls from the sky and just like rain eventually hits a layer of the atmosphere that's above 32°F and melts into a rain droplet. However, the difference is as it's falling to the ground, it eventually runs into another layer that's below freezing and refreezes into what we know as sleet.

Sleet is sometimes very hard to see as it's falling. But if you look closely at the ground, unlike rain you will actually see the sleet bouncing off the pavement. Many people may mistake sleet as hail or vice versa when in fact, they are different in many ways. I explain in the next section.

Hail:

Here in Connecticut we usually witness hail in the warmer summer months. Hail falls during thunderstorms and it's sure noticeable. A water droplet falls through the atmosphere as it approaches the surface. Typically during thunderstorms it's very windy due to updrafts and downdrafts. The wind is strong enough to bring millions of water droplets before they hit the ground high up in the atmosphere and refreeze them into separate ice droplets or hail.

The piece of hail then falls back down towards the ground and comes in contact with more rain droplets or even ice. The cluster of ice or hail then gets caught up in another updraft, refreezes and grows in size. Soon the cluster of ice or hail gets too large for the wind to support and it falls to the ground as hail. Hail can come in many different sizes too. It can be as small as a pea or as large as a softball or even bigger!

Freezing Rain:

Freezing rain is the most dangerous of winter precipitation. It will quickly turn roads into skating rinks and snap tree branches and power lines with ease. The atmosphere that causes freezing rain is most similar to sleet but there is a difference. The layer that is above freezing is much thicker, the layer below freezing is right at the surface and much thinner or shallow. Due to the layer below freezing being much thinner and right at the surface, the rain droplet doesn't have enough time to refreeze before hitting the ground (Which would be called sleet). Instead, the rain reaches the surface and freezes on contact. Hence why it's called freezing rain!

So there's a lot more going on above our heads then you think! Hope you learned something.

Thanks for reading!

Friend me on Facebook by searching: Meteorologist Kevin Arnone. Or tweet with me using the handle: @Kevin_Arnone. You can even follow me on Instagram, just search MeteorologistKevinArnone

   

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