So, which is it? How to differentiate between sleet and freezing rain and hail

Helping you identify what is falling in your town

We had a wave of showers and storms move through the Tri-State on Monday morning, and we quickly started getting reports of frozen precipitation.

But again, people were left asking what exactly was falling.

In Monday's case, it was hail. Thunderstorms passed through the Tri-State. But the freezing level within our storms was very low in the atmosphere. This means that when we got a heavy downpour, it unleashed hail. In some places, hail completely covered the ground. 

PHOTOS: Hail to the first day of spring!

Next on to sleet. Sleet is what happens when a raindrop falls into a deep enough layer of cold air and freezes into a ball of ice before hitting the ground. Sleet is commonly referred to as ice pellets. Monday's setup did not support sleet since we didn't have below freezing temperatures at the surface.

Sleet pellets

Freezing rain, on the other hand, is not an ice pellet like the two above. Freezing rain is a liquid raindrop that hits the ground and then slowly freezes as temperatures are below freezing on that surface.

Unlike sleet, there’s not enough cold air from the warm layer aloft to the surface for the liquid raindrop to refreeze into an ice pellet. Shortly after the drop of liquid rain hits the ground, as long as the air or ground temperature is at or below freezing, it will freeze. This is what coats everything in a layer of ice. Freezing rain is typically the most dangerous form of wintry weather we can have because you often can’t see it or it simply looks “wet.”

Freezing rain

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