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Question #41350 posted on 12/17/2007 3:01 a.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

What is the difference between snow and freezing rain? And what sort of conditions would make the sky produce one and not the other?

It never, ever snowed back home, but we got freezing rain on occasion. Here, it's just the opposite!

-I'm Cold

A: Dear Gertrude,

Snow, obviously, is that fluffy white stuff that's all over the place right now. Freezing rain, on the other hand, is a form of precipitation that falls from the sky originally as snow, melts on the way down and falls as rain, and upon landing immediately freezes, forming huge sheets of ice all over everything.

According to Wikipedia, the conditions that will form freezing rain instead of snow are thus:
Usually freezing rain is associated with the approach of a warm front when cold air, at or below freezing temperature, is trapped in the lower levels of the atmosphere as warmth streams in aloft.[3] This happens, for instance, when a low pressure system moves from the Mississippi River Valley toward the Appalachian mountains and the Saint Lawrence River Valley of North America, in the cold season, and there is a strong high pressure system sitting further East. The warm air from the Gulf of Mexico is often the fuel for freezing precipitation.

The warm air is then forced aloft where it dramatically alters the temperature in the middle layer, around 800 mbar (800 hPa). If the advection is strong enough to warm a thin layer several degrees above 0 °C for a brief period or a larger one slightly above 0 °C for a long period, the falling snow into this layer will melt and become rain droplets. These will freeze on contact when they hit the ground, which is still at or below 0 °C.

I hope that answers your question. Where I come from, we get a lot more ice storms (a storm of freezing rain) than we do snow, so I would much prefer freezing rain right now rather than snow, even though it is a lot more dangerous than the snow.

-Kicks and Giggles