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

Helping you identify what is falling in your town
Posted at 10:28 AM, Mar 17, 2017

With a wave of snow and freezing rain moving through the Tri-State Wednesday, we quickly started getting reports of frozen precipitation.

Most of it appears to be freezing rain, which 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

On the other hand, sleet is also possible Wednesday morning in Greater Cincinnati. 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.

Sleet pellets

Hail can occur during thunderstorms when the freezing level is very low in the atmosphere. That's not very likely Wednesday, so breath a sigh of relief on that front. 

And then there's good old snow. No explanation needed. By 4 a.m. Wednesday, snow was falling throughout Butler County, coating streets in Oxford, Hamilton and West Chester Township.