More sleet, less freezing rain fell on Thursday morning

The increase in sleet and decrease in freezing rain led to a lower risk for power outages

Sleet vs. freezing rain

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A change in the type of precipitation that fell Thursday morning meant a decrease in the risk for power outages across Central Virginia.

Portions of metro Richmond saw heavy sleet for a time on Thursday morning and because it was more sleet instead of freezing rain, that resulted in fewer power outages than were feared. Freezing rain clings to trees and powerlines, but sleet bounces off of those surfaces. NBC12′s Andrew Freiden gave the First Alert on Wednesday that we could see more sleet, and that was exactly what happened.

Why did we see sleet vs. freezing rain? It all has to do with the temperature profile of the atmosphere above our heads.

Sleet happens when rain falls into a thicker layer of cold air near and just above the ground. That thick cold layer allows the raindrops to freeze into pellets of ice before hitting the ground.

When there is freezing rain, the layer of cold air is not as thick and only in the lowest part of the atmosphere near ground level. In this case, the raindrops become ice when they hit surfaces that are below freezing such as trees, powerlines, and sidewalks. The graphic below shows how different types of winter precipitation form:

Sleet happens when there is a thicker layer of cold air near the ground that allows raindrops to refreeze into pellets of ice before reaching the ground.
Sleet happens when there is a thicker layer of cold air near the ground that allows raindrops to refreeze into pellets of ice before reaching the ground. (Source: WWBT)

One more note: Many people confuse hail with sleet. Hail occurs in an entirely different atmospheric process, usually in powerful thunderstorms during the spring and summer.

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