Jesse Ferrell

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Incredible Sleet Stories, Vol. I

January 18, 2007; 12:31 AM ET

I was pleasantly surprised at the number and depth of emails that I got regarding heavy sleet storms, after posting an entry stating that I thought that 6 inches of sleet in Missouri was extreme, and I myself had never witnessed such. I didn't realize that sleet could evoke such passion in people. By the way, I do recall at least 3-4 inches of sleet in Boomer, North Carolina (where I grew up), during one winter storm in the 1980's.

WHAT DO OFFICIAL RECORDS SAY? SEE BELOW.


Sleet in Grand Forks, ND in November 2005, by Photo Gallery user weatherdan

Here's what readers said:

From John in Virginia:

The sleet storm in Charlottesville, VA occurred on Valentine's Day weekend 2003. My son was in 4th grade at the time and did a science project on snow/water ratios. We were forecast for a big snow (1-2 feet, which DC area got). Turns out, he worked mostly with sleet!(roughly 3:1 ratio, compared to typical 10:1 ratio for snow) It started with 1/2 inch of rain, then changed to sleet. My recollection was only padded by one inch (His records show 6 inches of sleet, and a storm total of 2.39 inches of water equivalent), and I was right about the temps in the high teens and low 20's.

A.R. in Virginia also remembers that storm:

In 2003, with the break of our drought, we had a combination of about 9 inches of sleet and wet snow, and I was driving in it, and stopped to measure. What happens of course is that the sleet often sinks down into a solid mass under the frozen rain added to it. Back in 1994, starting in January, we received SEVERAL sleet falls that accumulated to about 6 inches. It was like driving on ball bearings! I had to pick up emergency personnel to get them to work, and it was quite a treat, NOT.

Jeff from Pennsylvania reports:

You had said that you had never seen a report of 6 inches of sleet, before, and that may be true of actual weather stations, but here in Myerstown, PA, we once recorded even more. It was during the severe winter period of Jan-Feb 1994. Although I can only remember the beginning of the storm,(I remember the sleet hitting my face and I was only 6 at the time), my dad said that it sleeted very heavily all afternoon and night, pinging off the aluminum siding relentlessly. After it stopped, my dad measured over 7 inches of sleet on the ground. And this was not an anomalous reading, he measured several times, out of disbelief in the amount that had fallen. To the north, it was a very heavy snowstorm, with avalanches being reported around Lock Haven. We were at the exact right spot in the storm for such a large amount of sleet, because it would change over to heavy snow for a minute or two only very occasionally ,so we were right on the line of heaviest sleet accumulation. The sleet apparently drifted quite badly afterwards, and people were stranded on one of the major roads through Eastern Lebanon County, Route 501.

And remember that Dan from South Carolina had written:

Yes, Mr. Ferrell, there have been six inches of sleet before and it occurred in Upstate South Carolina of all places. This happened in Seneca, South Carolina in March of 1960. I think it poured down sleet for about 24 hours straight and the temp. was in the mid 20's. Extremely unusual weather for SC and especially for March. There were also two deep snows of about six to eight inches that month. It was the coldest, snowiest (and sleetiest) March on record in Oconee County, SC. I remember it as if if was yesterday and I'm sixty years. I now live in Central Virginia and we have never had over two inches of sleet at a time here, though we've much deeper snows, of course.

WHAT DO THE RECORDS SAY?

REMEMBER: We're talking about sleet or ice pellets here: small, clear balls of frozen rain caused when raindrops freeze on their way down, not hail, which occurs during summer thunderstorms when the raindrop passes up into cold air repeatedly. I (and others) have posted unusual hail stories on the Forums as well.

HOW SLEET FORMS

READ THIS NWS TUTORIAL FOR MORE INFO
ON WINTER PRECIPITATION FORMATION


I did a Google search for "6 inches of sleet" and "6 inches of ice pellets" and came up with these sleet storms of note (over 4 inches):

- 8 Inches of sleet in North Carolina in 1987
- An "incredible" 6 inches of sleet in Kentucky on Dec. 22-23, 2004
- 6 inches of "mostly sleet" in Illinois 2/16/03
- 6 inches of sleet in Ontario 4/4/2003
- 6 inches of sleet in Maine on 2/10/98

I also checked our internal AccuWeather Almanac which yielded these results:

Northern Virginia: 1998: Major ice storm in the mountains above 2,000ft. As much as 10" of ice and sleet covered Skyline Drive; the road was closed for more than 7 days.

Washington, DC Area: 1994: Yet another winter storm. Up to 6" of sleet.

New England: 1984: Major Snowstorm - 7" of sleet and snow at Hartford, CT.


Truth be told, we may never know what the record sleet accumulation is. For the most part, government records lump all types of frozen precipitation (including hail) under the same header, which is often referred to as simply "snow." Even the weather fact expert Chris Burt, author of "Extreme Weather", a comprehensive guide to which I frequently refer, didn't mention any sleet records in his book.

If you have a story to tell, you can post it on the WeatherMatrix Forums in our Weather Stories section, where I have also posted these.

P.S. What About Record Freezing Rain (Ice or Glaze)?NOTICE: [A newer blog entry gives a better-researched list of freezing rain records]

I also said in the same entry earlier this week that I thought the 4 inches of ice reported in Oklahoma was almost unbelievable. Chris Burt's book talked about a couple of 4-inch ice storms but quoted the record as 8 inches of freezing rain in Idaho in 1961. Our Almanac also boasted this extreme freezing rain claim: 11" of ice coated Lauderdale Co., Alabama on February 2, 1985. Yikes.

P.P.S.: And Now... Snow Pellets

Blog reader Phil writes:

Here in central Kansas over the weekend we had an odd kind of precipitation. Roughly half an inch of moisture fell in two rounds over two day. The weather observers at the Wichita airport called it small hail/snow pellets. Local forecasters have called it sleet, although there were not many of the opaque sleet pellets with which I am familiar. Somebody told me that in Colorado they call it corn snow. There are 1-2 inches on the ground, and it looks and feels like hard packed snow. It is bright white, not opaque like sleet I have seen before. I cross-country ski, and I basically just glide across the surface. It is as if it snowed ten inches and then got steam rolled. It is like nothing I have seen before. Do you have any experience with something like this?

The weather observers are correct in calling it snow pellets, Phil, and I do snow pellets 2-3 times per winter here in Pennsylvania. It may be more uncommon in the Plains. I would not be comfortable calling it hail unless I was sure it was thunderstorm-produced. In situations like you had over the weekend, where there is lightning, it can be hard to determine whether it is hail, sleet, or snow pellets. The way you describe it though, it sounds like "little snowballs" as opposed to hail which I would describe as "little iceballs." Snow pellets here in the East are often mixed with large, fluffy snowflakes here and I don't think I've ever seen it accumulate more than half an inch, so the accumulation and purity that you got might be the most unusual part about the occurrence. A Penn State Meteorology course page defines snow pellets as "frozen drizzle drops in the form of white, opaque grains of ice; sometimes round, sometimes conical; diameter ranging from 0.08 to 0.2 in/2-5 mm.".

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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About This Blog

Jesse Ferrell
Jesse Ferrell's WeatherMatrix blog covers extreme weather worldwide with a concentration on weather photos and Social Media.