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The guide to precipitation: What’s falling from the sky?

Rain? Sleet? Snow? Now, you can know!
Rain, sleet, or snow? Now you can know!
Rain, sleet, or snow? Now you can know!(kbtx)
Published: Feb. 12, 2021 at 10:02 AM CST
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - When winter weather hits south Texas it’s easy to wonder what exactly is falling from the sky. The thing is, there are a lot of different types of precipitation that it could be. Of course, we are no stranger to rain, but when it comes to any freezing precipitation, that’s where it’s easy to wander into unfamiliar territory.

Whenever any icy substance hits the ground in the Brazos Valley, there could be multiple things it could be. Some precipitation may be obvious, but some are hard to tell apart. So here are a couple of tools you can use next time you find yourself wondering what exactly is falling from the sky.

It all depends on the temperature profile of the atmosphere right above your head.

The red indicates a section of warm air, where the blue indicates below freezing cold air.
The red indicates a section of warm air, where the blue indicates below freezing cold air.(KBTX)

Rain- Liquid droplets that do not refreeze at any point on their way to the surface and reach the ground as raindrops.

Freezing Rain- Raindrops that fall through a shallow freezing layer or air just above the surface that freeze on contact with a surface. This causes icy conditions.

Sleet- Ice pellets that form as rain, but go through a freezing layer that refreezes the pellet, thus making sleet. These pellets usually make a high-pitched loud tap when they bounce off surfaces.

Snow - Ice crystals that fall through the entire cold atmosphere without having to refreeze, thus reaching the ground in their original form.

Graupel- Supercooled water droplets that collect and freeze on falling snowflakes that reach the ground as fluffy white spheres ranging in size from 2mm-5 mm. This tends to fall from winter storms and make a soft high-pitch tapping sound when hitting surfaces.

Hail- Drops of water that freeze together in the updraft of a thunderstorm creating a hailstone that accumulates more frozen water until it gets too heavy to stay suspended in the air. This reaches the surface as a ball of ice in sizes from 5mm to the size of a grapefruit.

(left to right) Hail, Graupel, Sleet, Snow
(left to right) Hail, Graupel, Sleet, Snow(National Severe Storms Laboratory)

Next time you are unsure of what type of precipitation is falling on your backyard, you can use this flow chart to help you determine what it is!

Your precipitation cheat sheet!
Your precipitation cheat sheet!(KBTX)

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