What is the difference between freezing rain, sleet, snow, hail and graupel?
By Renee Duff, AccuWeather meteorologist
Precipitation can take a variety of forms with each one posing its own hazards.
Much of the precipitation that falls throughout the year begins as snowflakes high in the clouds. The snowflakes form as air rises, cools and condenses, usually around an area of low pressure.
Whether or not precipitation remains snow or transitions to rain, freezing rain, sleet, hail or graupel by the time it reaches the ground hinges on the temperature fluctuations the snowflakes may encounter as they travel through the layers of the atmosphere.
Here is an overview of five different types of precipitation, how they form and what hazards they can bring:
When the temperature between the ground and the clouds remains at or below the freezing mark (32 degrees Fahrenheit), precipitation will fall in the form of snow.
It is possible for snow to fall when temperatures are above 32, as long as the layer of above-freezing air near the surface is rather shallow, not allowing the snowflakes to melt.
When the surface temperature is near or just above 32, the snow can be heavy and wet in nature. While this type of snow is great for making a snowman or snowballs, it is very difficult to remove from driveways, sidewalks and cars.
Dry, powdery snow that is easy to remove but can cause blowing and drifting problems is more likely when the air is drier and colder.
Regardless of the type of snow, slippery and dangerous travel can ensue for motorists, especially if the ground is cold enough for the snow to stick immediately.
Sleet vs. freezing rain
Sleet and freezing rain occur by a similar process, but are different forms of precipitation.
Sleet occurs when snowflakes melt into a raindrop in a wedge of warm air well above the ground and then refreeze in a layer of freezing air just above the surface. This results in frozen raindrops, or small ice pellets.
Freezing rain occurs when the wedge of warm air aloft is much thicker, allowing the raindrop to survive until it comes in contact with the cold ground. A coating of ice forms on whatever the raindrops contact.
"Freezing rain is by far the most dangerous because it forms a solid sheet of ice, as opposed to sleet that just has small ice pellets that quickly bounce off of the surface," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson said. "Actually, sleet can even provide a little bit of traction for drivers, as opposed to the obvious dangers of a solid sheet of ice that forms from freezing rain."
The additional danger with freezing rain is the potential for ice to accumulate on trees and power lines, possibly leading to damage and power outages.
While snow, sleet and freezing rain are familiar precipitation types to most people, one that may be lesser known is graupel, also known as snow pellets.
Graupel forms when snowflakes are coated with a layer of ice. Graupel is typically white and opaque.
Unlike hail or sleet, graupel is soft and can fall apart easily in your hand.
Graupel is also usually smaller than hail, with a diameter of around 0.08-0.2 of an inch.
Hail is a chunk of a ice that can fall during thunderstorms.
Unlike snow, sleet, freezing rain and graupel, which occur in colder weather, hail is most common in warm conditions.
The size of the ice can vary based on the strength of the thunderstorm, with the largest hail comparable to the size of a softball.
The larger the hail, the greater the risk of damage to cars, roofs, siding and crops.
Any livestock or person that is outside when a hailstorm strikes can be at risk of life-threatening injuries.
In the United States, the largest hailstorms typically occur in the High Plains.
Comments that don't add to the conversation may be automatically or manually removed by Facebook or AccuWeather. Profanity, personal attacks, and spam will not be tolerated.
More Weather News
Weather News - March 22, 2019, 2:07:17 PM EDT
A lunar rainbow, one of the rarest types of rainbows, appeared during the super worm moon earlier this week.
Weather News - March 22, 2019, 12:42:06 PM EDT
The colorful festival of Holi celebrated by the Hindu community marks the beginning of spring.
In case you missed it: Pence assures Midwest flood victims as damage tops $1 billion; 50,000 visitors overtake California town to see vibrant superbloom
Weather News - March 22, 2019, 11:39:12 AM EDT
Flooding in the Midwest has put entire towns underwater and forced thousands to abandon their homes while a cyclone in southern Africa became one of the worst natural disasters to hit the region in decades.
Severe Tropical Cyclone Veronica to inundate Australia's Pilbara Coast with life-threatening flooding
Weather News - March 22, 2019, 1:17:16 PM EDT
Lives and property will be in severe peril later this weekend and early next week along the northwestern coastline of Western Australia as Severe Tropical Cyclone Veronica slows down and unloads extreme rainfall.
Weather News - March 22, 2019, 2:42:11 PM EDT
A storm forecast to spread rain from the Mississippi Valley on Sunday to the Atlantic coast on Monday may end as a period of snow from parts of Ohio to parts of Massachusetts early next week.
Australia faces a dual severe tropical cyclone strike this weekend starting with Trevor in the Northern Territory
Weather News - March 22, 2019, 1:29:34 PM EDT
As Veronica threatens to cause a flood disaster in northwestern Australia, the dangers to lives and property are expected to expand well away from where Severe Tropical Cyclone Trevor makes a dangerous strike on Australia's Northern Territory early this weekend.
Weather News - March 22, 2019, 12:24:17 PM EDT
The winter of 2018-2019 will go down in the record books for being the wettest on record due to relentless rain and snow, so AccuWeather ranked the cities that were buried under the most snow this winter.
Cyclone Idai flood catastrophe: Estimates of more than 1,000 dead as 'inland ocean' forms in Mozambique
Weather News - March 22, 2019, 10:21:37 AM EDT
More than 1,000 people are feared dead in Mozambique and Zimbabwe as the flood catastrophe caused by Tropical Cyclone Idai continues to rage. Drier weather is expected to finally return later this weekend.