LUBBOCK, TX – Wintry conditions come in different forms — freezing rain, ice pellets, graupel, sleet or snow.
The temperature in the atmosphere is what determines what ends up falling to the ground. Precipitation forms as ice or snow in a cloud and as it falls there are layers of air that are slightly warmer than freezing.
In the event of freezing rain or freezing drizzle, the ice particle completely melts. Once it hits a surface, it freezes on contact and causes damage to power lines and trees by adding additional weight to the object forcing it to break or snap.
Sleet occurs when a particle falls through a warm layer in the atmosphere and partially melts but then re-freezes on the way to the ground forming a little ball of ice. It doesn’t stick to the surface like ice, it accumulates like snow.
Sleet doesn’t last long and is most often a transition in a storm system before it changes to snow.
Mark Conder with the National Weather Service in Lubbock spoke about the difficulty in winter weather forecasting and trying to determine the temperature of the air above the surface.
A few degrees in temperature can make the precipitation either snow, sleet, freezing drizzle or freezing rain, he said.
“We don’t have a whole lot of data to go by. We launch weather balloons at certain locations, we don’t here in Lubbock,” Conder said “We do get some temperature data from aircraft but outside Lubbock the temperature data is just really sparse.”
Officials urge people to use caution when driving in any wintry conditions by slowing down and avoiding overpasses and bridges when possible.
At times they will close down roadways for safety. Freezing drizzle can make for treacherous driving conditions because the road will only appear wet but in fact creates a thin layer of ice causing many drivers to slide off the road unexpectedly.
It is also very important to have good functioning windshield wipers and defroster on your windshield to keep freezing rain or drizzle from accumulating and impairing visibility.
The one weather condition you won’t typically get in the winter is hail. The reason is due to updrafts.
A thunderstorm cloud requires warm ground temperature and cold air in the atmosphere and most of the time our temperature profile is too cold.
The strong updrafts in a thunderstorm suspend ice particles in the thunderstorm cloud. As the particle goes up through the cloud it will accumulate more liquid and grow in size.
Winter weather clouds don’t grow to such tall heights without updrafts and are more stable than thunderstorm clouds.