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Is it sleet or freezing rain? We explain the difference

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Jaclyn Whittal
Meteorologist

Monday, December 9, 2013, 11:51 AM -

Snow, sleet and freezing rain.

It's all wintry precipitation that could lead to dangerous travel conditions.

But what's the difference between these precipitation types?

ICE PELLETS

"It all starts as snow at the top, but the atmosphere has layers, so as the snow starts to fall, it can go into an area of warmer temperatures slightly above freezing," explains Weather Network meteorologist Jaclyn Whittal. "So our snowflake starts to melt from the outside in."

As it melts, you're left with a water drop with a little bit of an ice core in the centre.

"But then it exits our warm area and goes back into the cold. That means our water starts to freeze again," adds Whittal. "But it doesn't form as a snowflake, it just freezes like it is. A solid rain drop if you will."

It comes all the way down to the ground where it can bounce and then is referred to as an ice pellet.

FREEZING RAIN

Freezing rain works a bit differently.

"It does begin as a snowflake and begins to fall through the atmosphere, however it enters a warm area that is much deeper, so that snowflake melts all the way down," says Whittal.

Now it's just a regular rain drop and continues all the way down to the ground.

"But here at the surface, it's actually below freezing still so that liquid water hits the ground and freezes right on contact," Whittal says.

Freezing rain can be one of the worst types of precipitation so it's important to plan ahead and adjust any travel plans accordingly.


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