Weather Explainer: What Causes Sleet or Freezing Rain?

Sleet and freezing rain will make a mess of Tuesday.

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What started off as snow overnight quickly turned to sleet and freezing rain early Tuesday morning. So why the change of wintry weather?

For snow to fall, the entire atmospheric column has to be below 32 degrees. Whenever we start incorporating warmer air into the atmosphere, our precipitation type begins to change.

Sleet is created when a layer of warm air in the upper atmosphere melts frozen precipitation. However, when there is enough cold air below 32 degrees beneath the warm layer, the precipitation has the opportunity to refreeze and create sleet pellets.

When rain falls in an environment above 32 degrees all the way to the surface, but encounters surface temperatures below freezing, we see ice accumulated and create an icy glaze on roads, sidewalks, trees and power lines.

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