Icy Roads from Sleet & Freezing Rain
Heading into the winter months, we often talk about the possibility of more than just rain and snow coming down from the clouds. A few of the in between forms that we encounter are freezing rain and sleet.
When looking at precipitation type, it's important to remember that our atmosphere has several layers that vary in temperature. In the cases of rain, these layers stay consistently above freezing, whereas with snow, it occurs when the layers are consistently below 32 degrees.
In the case of freezing rain, the upper levels of the atmosphere are cold enough for moisture to fall as snow. However, as the snowflake falls closer to the surface, it encounters a warmer layer that melts the snowflake to rain. When the raindrop hits the cold surface though, say things like your car, the road, or trees, it turns straight to ice.
A similar story is true for sleet. Cold upper levels of the atmosphere create a snowflake, then the snowflake starts to melt as it falls. The difference however, is that sleet refreezes before it touches the surface and creates little ice pellets.
When driving in these conditions, it's important to stay on the lookout for ice on the roads, give yourself plenty of travel time and avoid steep hills if you can.