Weather Matters With Matthews (11/07/21): Sleet and Freezing Rain- What is the difference between the two?

Weather Wisdom

Hello and welcome to another episode of Weather Matters With Matthews. The terms “sleet” and “freezing rain” are already known by many, but what is the difference between the two types of precipitation?
Forecasters look at the cold and warm layers in the atmosphere to determine whether there will be sleet or freezing rain. Sleet happens when the cold layer near the surface is big enough so that rain freezes before contact with the ground. In other words, the rain turns into ice pellets, more commonly known as sleet.
Freezing rain happens when the cold layer near the surface is not as big. Therefore, the rain does not turn into ice pellets before touching the ground, but rather freezes upon contact with the ground.

To compare the different types of precipitation and how they are formed, one can look at how large the warm layer above the cold layer near the surface is. The larger the warm layer is, the smaller the cold layer from underneath the warm layer is. The chances for rain and freezing rain are greater with a large warm layer, and the chances for sleet and snow are greater with a large cold layer.

To determine what sleet and freezing rain look like on weather models, sleet is usually represented as purple on the radar, and freezing rain is usually represented as pink on the radar.

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