Q: Is there any difference between sleet and freezing rain?
A: The only real difference is that they are formed a bit differently, explains Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University. Freezing rain is rain that is supercooled and will usually freeze when it comes into contact with other surfaces, such as cars. “Freezing rain can form when warm, moist air moves over cold air near the surface,” McRoberts says. “Sleet is often confused with freezing rain. Sleet is made of frozen rain and forms in advance of a warm front and is often sandwiched between an area of snow and freezing rain. When rain is being produced in warm air and then falls into a layer of colder air below, the raindrops can freeze. Sleet forms ice pellets that make the familiar crackle sound as they hit the ground, trees or cars.”
Q: Can you have freezing rain, snow and sleet at the same time?
A: Yes you can, McRoberts adds. “Winter storm systems frequently contain all three,” he says. “Very often, you can have two of them at the same time. Freezing rain is difficult to forecast because just one or two degrees in temperature difference can mean either rain or snow or freezing rain. Freezing rain is very dangerous because it tends to coat roads with ice first. If the surface it hits is 32 degrees or lower, it will quickly freeze on contact, and the resulting ice storms can shut down an entire city very quickly.”
Weather Whys is a service of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University.