Breakdown: Why winter precipitation means more than just snow

Why various winter precipitation types form

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Cold fronts, they bring us rain and sometimes winter weather. As we slide into the winter months, we will more than likely have several chances to see some frozen precipitation. Have you ever wondered what it takes to get winter precipitation?

In this episode of the Breakdown, we explain why different types of winter precipitation form and how that makes it difficult to forecast.

The First Alert Weather Team strives to give the Mid-South the most accurate forecast. That is why understanding what happens in the atmosphere can make a difference to the type of weather we see across the region.

As cold air edges into the region, that could turn rain to snow, snow to sleet or even freezing rain. In fact, rain, sleet, snow and freezing rain are the four main types of winter weather, and they all occur differently.

Each one starts as snow in the upper levels of the atmosphere, but the type we see at ground level is determined by how much cold or warm air is above us.

Rain occurs when frozen precipitation melts as it reaches the ground, which is usually what we see here across the region.

Snow is the opposite. It falls through cold air from the cloud all the way to the surface as long as it’s 32 degrees or below.

Sleet is a bit different. Frozen precipitation melts in a shallow warm air. Then it refreezes into sleet before it reaches the surface. You know it is sleet when it bounces on the car or ground.

Freezing rain starts out as frozen precipitation and then melts in the warm air above the ground. The rain then falls and refreezes on the surface. This is what coats trees, power lines and cars, causing issues.

Having a better grasp on the four types of winter weather and how they occur can help you better prepare when there is a threat for winter weather.

As always, keep it with the WMC Action News 5 First Alert Weather Team for the latest forecast for the Mid-South to help you be prepared for the weather all winter long.

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