Ice pellets

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Ice pellets are a form of precipitation consisting of small, hard, translucent balls of ice. Ice pellets are different from graupel ("soft hail") which is made of frosty white opaque rime, and from a mixture of rain and snow which is a slushy liquid or semisolid. Ice pellets often bounce when they hit the ground or other solid objects, and make a higher-pitched "tap" when striking objects like jackets, windshields, and dried leaves, compared to the dull splat of liquid raindrops. Pellets generally do not freeze into other solid masses unless mixed with freezing rain. The METAR code for ice pellets is PL (PE before November 1998 [1] ).

Contents

Terminology

Ice pellets are known as sleet in the United States, the official term used by the U.S. National Weather Service. [2] However, the term sleet refers to a mixture of rain and snow in most Commonwealth countries instead, [3] including Canada. [4] Because of this, Environment Canada never uses the term sleet, and uses the terms "ice pellets" or "wet snow" instead. [5]

Formation

Temperature profile for ice pellet formation. SleetSounding.svg
Temperature profile for ice pellet formation.

Ice pellets form when a layer of above-freezing air is located between 1,500 and 3,000 meters (5,000 and 10,000  ft ) above the ground, with sub-freezing air both above and below it. This causes the partial or complete melting of any snowflakes falling through the warm layer (the French term for sleet, neige fondue, literally means "melted snow" because of this). As they fall back into the sub-freezing layer closer to the surface, they re-freeze into ice pellets. However, if the sub-freezing layer beneath the warm layer is too small, the precipitation will not have time to re-freeze before hitting the surface, so it will become freezing rain and freeze on the surface instead. A temperature profile showing a warm layer above the ground is most likely to be found in advance of a warm front during the cold season, [6] but can occasionally be found behind a passing cold front, and often with a stationary front.

An accumulation of ice pellets Sleet on the ground.jpg
An accumulation of ice pellets
Ice pellets next to a U.S. penny for scale Sleet (ice pellets).jpg
Ice pellets next to a U.S. penny for scale

Effects

In most parts of the world, ice pellets only occur for brief periods and do not accumulate a significant and troublesome amount. However, across the eastern United States and southeastern Canada, warm air flowing north from the Gulf of Mexico ahead of a strong synoptic-scale storm system can overrun cold, dense air at the surface for many hundreds of miles for an extended period of time. In these areas, ice pellet accumulations of 2–5 cm(0.8–2.0 in) are not unheard of. The effects of a significant accumulation of ice pellets are not unlike an accumulation of snow. One significant difference however is that for the same volume of snow, an equal volume of ice pellets is significantly heavier and thus more difficult to clear away. Additionally, a volume of ice pellets takes significantly longer to melt compared to an equal volume of fresh snowfall due to less surface area.

See also

Related Research Articles

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Ice is water frozen into a solid state, typically forming at or below temperatures of 0 degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on the presence of impurities such as particles of soil or bubbles of air, it can appear transparent or a more or less opaque bluish-white color.

Snow Precipitation in the form of ice crystal flakes

Snow comprises individual ice crystals that grow while suspended in the atmosphere—usually within clouds—and then fall, accumulating on the ground where they undergo further changes. It consists of frozen crystalline water throughout its life cycle, starting when, under suitable conditions, the ice crystals form in the atmosphere, increase to millimeter size, precipitate and accumulate on surfaces, then metamorphose in place, and ultimately melt, slide or sublimate away.

Sleet is a regionally variant term for some meteorological phenomena:

Diamond dust Ground-level cloud of ice crystals

Diamond dust is a ground-level cloud composed of tiny ice crystals. This meteorological phenomenon is also referred to simply as ice crystals and is reported in the METAR code as IC. Diamond dust generally forms under otherwise clear or nearly clear skies, so it is sometimes referred to as clear-sky precipitation. Diamond dust is most commonly observed in Antarctica and the Arctic, but can occur anywhere with a temperature well below freezing. In the polar regions of Earth, diamond dust may persist for several days without interruption.

Ice storm Weather event characterized by freezing rain

An ice storm, also known as a glaze event or a silver storm is a type of winter storm characterized by freezing rain. The U.S. National Weather Service defines an ice storm as a storm which results in the accumulation of at least 0.25-inch (6.4 mm) of ice on exposed surfaces. They are generally not violent storms but instead are commonly perceived as gentle rains occurring at temperatures just below freezing.

Freezing rain Rain maintained at temperatures below freezing

Freezing rain is rain maintained at temperatures below freezing by the ambient air mass that causes freezing on contact with surfaces. Unlike a mixture of rain and snow or ice pellets, freezing rain is made entirely of liquid droplets. The raindrops become supercooled while passing through a sub-freezing layer of air hundreds of meters above the ground, and then freeze upon impact with any surface they encounter, including the ground, trees, electrical wires, aircraft, and automobiles. The resulting ice, called glaze ice, can accumulate to a thickness of several centimeters and cover all exposed surfaces. The METAR code for freezing rain is FZRA.

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A winter storm warning is a hazardous weather statement issued by Weather Forecast Offices (WFO) of the National Weather Service (NWS) in the United States to alert the public that a winter storm is occurring or is about to occur in the area, usually within 36 hours of the storm's onset.

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Graupel Precipitation that forms when supercooled droplets of water freeze on a falling snowflake

Graupel, also called soft hail, hominy snow, or snow pellets, is precipitation that forms when supercooled water droplets in air are collected and freeze on falling snowflakes, forming 2–5 mm (0.08–0.20 in) balls of crisp, opaque rime.

Snow in Florida Snow events in Florida, USA

It is very rare for snow to fall in the U.S. state of Florida, especially in the central and southern portions of the state. With the exception of the far northern areas of the state, most of the major cities in Florida have never recorded measurable snowfall, though trace amounts have been recorded, or flurries in the air observed few times each century. According to the National Weather Service, in the Florida Keys and Key West there is no known occurrence of snow flurries since the European colonization of the region more than 300 years ago. In Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach there has been only one known report of snow flurries observed in the air in more than 200 years; this occurred in January 1977. In any event, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach have not seen snow flurries before or since this 1977 event.

Cold-air damming

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Precipitation types

In meteorology, the different types of precipitation often include the character, formation, or phase of the precipitation which is falling to ground level. There are three distinct ways that precipitation can occur. Convective precipitation is generally more intense, and of shorter duration, than stratiform precipitation. Orographic precipitation occurs when moist air is forced upwards over rising terrain and condenses on the slope, such as a mountain.

Outline of meteorology Overview of and topical guide to meteorology

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Rain and snow mixed Form of precipitation consisting of rain and melting snow

Rain and snow mixed is precipitation composed of a mixture of rain and partially melted snow. Unlike ice pellets, which are hard, and freezing rain, which is fluid until striking an object where it fully freezes, this precipitation is soft and translucent, but it contains some traces of ice crystals from partially fused snowflakes, also called slush. In any one location, it usually occurs briefly as a transition phase from rain to snow or vice versa, but hits the surface before fully transforming. Its METAR code is RASN or SNRA.

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Shower (precipitation) Sudden and brief rain or snowfall

A shower is a mode of precipitation characterized by an abrupt start and end and by rapid variations in intensity. Often strong and short-lived, it comes from convective clouds, like cumulus congestus. A shower will produce rain if the temperature is above the freezing point in the cloud, or snow / ice pellets / snow pellets / hail if the temperature is below it at some point. In a meteorological observation, such as the METAR, they are noted SH giving respectively SHRA, SHSN, SHPL, SHGS and SHGR.

References

  1. "USA and International Code Change For Ice Pellets". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration . Retrieved 2013-09-20.
  2. "Sleet (glossary entry)". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service . Retrieved 2007-03-20.
  3. "sleet Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary". cambridge.org.
  4. "Weather Glossary". Environment Canada . Retrieved 2015-03-30. Ice pellets: This is the term Canadians use to describe frozen rain drops which are five millimetres or less in diameter and bounce when they hit a hard surface. Americans call this sleet.
  5. Chris St. Clair, Canada's Weather, p. 55, Firefly Books, 2009. ISBN   1-55407-338-3
  6. Weatherquestions.com. What causes ice pellets (sleet)? Retrieved on 2007-12-08.

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