(WKBN) – With the approaching winter storm, we thought we’d help you understand why we get sleet or freezing rain during the winter sometimes.

The atmosphere normally goes from warm to cold as you move higher into the air. Even in summertime, a raindrop probably started as a snowflake or ice crystal at 30,000 feet.

SNOW – The atmosphere remains below freezing throughout the column of air from aloft to the surface.
RAIN – The atmosphere warms and stays warm and we see rain.

Sometimes, a wedge of warmer air gets drawn into the middle part of the atmosphere. This happens with sleet and freezing rain.

With sleet, it’s a shallow layer of warmer air. This melts the snowflake, but there’s enough cold air to cause it to freeze as a pellet. Think of it as small hail. This can accumulate to a slush.

With freezing rain, the layer of warmer air is deeper and the raindrop becomes “super-cooled.” This means it’s a liquid drop, but it’s below freezing. It will freeze instantly on contact with a surface like a road, a power line, trees, or your car’s windshield. This causes a glaze of black ice and can make for treacherous travel.

Stay tuned for more on the developing storm system right here at WKBN.com.

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