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Weather Forecast: Freezing Rain, Sleet, and Snow ... When to Expect Each

Your outside, it's raining, it's pelleting, it's flurries. What gives. The easiest way to think about the variation in what's happening is the temperature and height of that temperature in the atmosphere. Moisture is frozen, melting, and potentially refreezing or a combination of that.

Image Credit: NJ.com


This is by far the best graphic to explain the change in perception.

  • Rain: Straight-forward, precipitation starts frozen, melts as it descends to the earth's surface.

  • Freezing Rain: Starts frozen, melts, hit's cold surface, and refreezes. This is by far one of the most dangerous of the precipitation events. When it hits trees, limbs, and logs ... they become significantly heavier and present a hazard. Be careful.

  • Sleet: Starts frozen, melts, refreezes.

  • Snow: Frozen all the way down.

Observe what is happening before you head outdoors and when you are caught in a weather event. Most of the time, you'll already have the forecast, but on that off chance you don't, it's good to think about what's really happening.

  • If the snow or flurries are shifting to sleet, it's worth checking your weather app to see if you need to head home before any icy trails or roads occur.

  • If the rain is shifting to icy conditions or sleet and it's getting colder while you are out, you have an idea of what's happening - the warm area is going away from you. Also probably warrants checking that app.

While we won't pretend to be a meteorologist, we think it's worth having a baseline understanding of why the weather around you is changing and what's causing it. Or at least we hope that it is helpful for you. And it certainly piqued my curiosity when I first read about it.


Bundle up and put that shell on. Happy hiking and get outside!

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