Our area has a weather alert this morning: ” Freezing Rain Advisory for East Platte County, WY”

What the heck, isn’t freezing rain snow? Have we outgrown the word snow? Or maybe the weather people want to be more like the Eskimo people who have dozens of words for snow.

As I read the special weather alert, I found another new-to-me term: freezing drizzle. I love that one and would use that term too if I were writing weather reports, no matter what the weather. Drizzle is such an amazing word. Say it three times: drizzle, drizzle, drizzle. I think of a bundt cake with a drizzled glaze.

Yes, freezing drizzle is a lovely phrase, but still, are we not talking about droplets of rain that freeze and make snow? I decide to launch an investigation this morning as I sip coffee and wait for Tango’s 8 AM grooming appointment.

I learn that freezing rain and freezing drizzle are definitely not snow. Furthermore, drizzle is not rain, it is the release of  “supercool” droplets, which develop when cloud temperatures are just so. Both freezing rain and freezing drizzle descend from their clouds as just water droplets and create their havoc once they reach the ground. If the ground surface is cold (overnight was in the mid-20s here) the droplets freeze on contact with the cold, cold earth.  These dastardly droplets are the perpetrators of black ice.  That will teach me to snicker at the weather report!

So, rain and drizzle fall onto the ground and freeze there. Snow freezes inside the clouds and falls to earth. To form snow, the clouds must contain ice nuclei.  Water in the clouds freezes on contact with ice nuclei, and becomes snow.  I am amazed to learn that the ice nuclei are nothing more than particles of desert dust, soot, organic matter, bacteria, pollen, fungal spores and volcanic ash. Furthermore, if your annual snow fall levels are changing, it is most like due to human activity that increases or decreases particulate release into the atmosphere.

I gaze out the window assessing my yard and the rest of my visible world for black ice. Yes, I see icy-ness all around. All the leaves that I never raked are a sold frozen mass. The remaining plants, hardy and belligerent to this point, are bent under their ice coating. It seems that snow insulates plants, while freezing rain spells doom.

English: A tree branch completely en-globed in...

English: A tree branch completely en-globed in freezing rain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, a weather lesson for today. Time to bundle up like the Pillsbury Dough Boy and get out there. I will take my hiking pole along so I don’t fall on the ice.

English: A graph showing the formation of free...

(Ha-Ha…have fun with this one) graph showing the formation of freezing rain with relation to the formation of snow, sleet, and rain. Derived from two figures in (Gay, David A.; Robert E. Davis (1993-12-30). “Freezing rain and sleet climatology of the southeastern USA”. Climate Research 3 (1): 209-220. http://www.int-res.com/articles/cr/3/c003p209.pdf). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4 thoughts on “Freezing Rain

  1. Very interesting. Growing up in NW Indiana, we used several words for the various forms of water falling from the sky. Living in California, I am grateful to have forgotten most of them. I never knew the bit about what made black ice (only that it makes driving challenging) or ice nuclei (although that explains “seeding the clouds” to make ice). Thanks! I hope Tango came out looking gorgeous.

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