For anyone who has lived in this state for more than 5 years, they understand how insane the weather is here. We live in one of the most difficult states to forecast weather in, and normal weather here is almost something of a gift. This is especially true when it comes to winter weather around here. Bowling Green hasn’t had a solid snowstorm in several years, but yet they have had a significant SLEET storm last year in March!
Those are definitely rarer than their snowstorm counterparts, but in this great state we see snow, sleet, rain, and freezing rain- often in the same system! This is what makes KY winter forecasting so challenging, as we have influences from all sources of air masses.
Sometimes, however, it can be difficult to determine what precipitation you are seeing, how it is defined and how it is formed. Well, that is why we are here. This is your guide to Kentucky Wintry Precipitation Types.
Rain is generally our most typical, and depressing, winter precipitation. Yes, rain falls all throughout the year. However, there is no pain quite like 33ºF rain. We have 33ºF rain about 90% of the winter, and every time models begin trending there, we in the weather world get sad.
Freezing rain is next up. Freezing rain is very cool and unique in that it is a liquid that falls when the temperatures are below freezing. It forms when rain falls through a portion of the atmosphere that is above freezing, and the snow that initially fell melts into rain. When this rain hits a surface, the surface is below freezing and the rain freezes on impact.
Freezing rain is extremely destructive, as many of you found out in the 2009 Ice Storm. It also causes many accidents on the roadway, and can only a quarter of an inch can knock out power!
Sleet is like freezing rain, but the layer below freezing near the surface is deeper. As the snow initially falls into warmer air, it melts into rain, but refreezes relatively quickly in the atmosphere as an ice pellet and then falls to the Earth as sleet. Sleet is very small, and accumulates the most inefficiently of all of the precip types. It is very hard to receive significant sleet accumulations, but as last March showed, it is possible.
Snow is the most polarizing of all of these. People either hate snow or love it and there is no in between. I would argue that a big snowfall is the most elusive of all of these, as it seems like every event shows snowfall at some point or another but ends up going back to rain every single time. Hope, hype, heartbreak. Don’t ever forget.
Anyways, snowfall occurs when precip falls through a column of air that is nearly 100% of the way below freezing. This allows the ice crystal to stay ice as it falls, and it certainly gives us the best pictures and the most fun.
Hopefully this helps some of you differentiate between the various types of wintry precip, and understand how to prepare for them and how they form. Always stay prepared out there!