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Wintry Precipitation Types - LEX18.com | Continuous News and StormTracker Weather

Wintry Precipitation Types

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The Winter Solstice and the official start of winter is just a week away. Although, we have already had a taste of winter over the past several weeks. As you're preparing your home and vehicle for winter, it's also a good time to get a refreshing on the types of precipitation that we may be tracking over the coming months.

Winter precipitation forecasts can be on the trickier side. In addition to tracking the path and intensity of an approaching storm there are some other factors that influence a winter weather forecast. We must determine if dry air will choke off any potential precipitation, will the air near the surface be saturated, and most importantly will there be a warm layer. The depth of a warm layer plays the most important role in determining the type of precipitation that we will see.

Let's start off easy. No matter the season, winter or summer, when precipitation is first released from a cloud it is in the form of an ice crystal. As long as the temperature of the air between the cloud base and ground remains below freezing, the ice crystal will remain frozen. Those falling ice crystals are also known as snow. We get rain if an ice crystal quickly meets a warm layer and the temperature of the air the rest of the way down stays. If an ice crystal passes through a warm layer mid-way through its trip to the ground, the forecast can become a little tricky.

Sleet forms as a result of a narrow warm layer. These ice pellets will then have the opportunity to re-freeze before reaching the ground. A “pinging” will accompany falling sleet. A deeper warm layer will produce freezing rain. This type of wintry precipitation will only have a short distance to re-freeze. This freezing usually occurs as the falling rain comes in contact with a surface, whether it's your sidewalks, the roads, or tree limbs.

No matter what type of winter precipitation we are tracking in the StormTracker forecast, remember to travel with caution. Conditions can quickly change. You can check the latest wintry conditions on the LEX 18 StormTracker Weather app.

- Meteorologist Jill Szwed

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