freezing rain

What is Freezing Rain?

Freezing rain is one of the worst nightmares for drivers once the winter months start to come. Snow can make it impossible to transit from one point to another, and hail can bounce off the road and hit vehicles. Still, freezing rain is the one that causes more traffic accidents because its slipperiness causes drivers to lose control of their cars and result in tragic crashes, more than 150.000 per year to be precise, with over 500 fatalities.

Ice storms can cause billions of dollars in damage, especially to the transportation, aviation, and power sector. Ice accumulates on every surface, not only on the roads; icicles form on electrical wires and trees, which can fall at any time and severely damage whatever is beneath. According to the Insurance Information Institute, in 2020, the US suffered losses of $1.08 million in damages, and the most affected states were Texas, Oregon, and Washington.

In the end, no one can fight against Mother Nature, but you can try to understand it. This way, you can be more prepared for the next winter and responsibly make timely decisions to protect your loved ones and your material goods. Keep on reading to find out more about this.

How Does Freezing Rain Forms?

Every type of precipitation always starts at extremely low temperatures; the regular temperature of the atmosphere being around -40° to -60°. In the wintertime, almost every rain or thunderstorm you see begins as snow, and as it falls, its temperature rises, turning the droplets into water.

Now we’re left with rain, which by itself shouldn’t cause too much trouble, except that during winter, the ground remains at drastically low temperatures, and it doesn’t give the rain enough time to cool again before reaching it. This process ends with water freezing up almost immediately when touching the ground and creating thin layers of ice across its surface, turning into the phenomenon we call black ice.

Sleet Vs. Freezing Rain

These two forms of precipitation happen in the same way. The main difference between freezing rain and sleet is the temperature of the layer of air around the surface. With sleet, it is cold enough, and it gives time for the rain to freeze into ice before reaching the ground.

Both can cause several types of damage to property if you don’t proceed with caution.

Regions of Freezing Rain

In the United States, almost every zone to the east of the Rocky Mountains can experience this phenomenon. It does not reach the west side of the country because this region lacks an essential element in the creation of frozen rain, which is arctic air that cannot go past the mountains. The only exceptions are those near the Columbia River like Washington and Oregon.

This arctic air clashing with warm Pacific air is crucial for freezing rain, as it creates the ideal environment for this type of rain to develop.

Ice Crystal Process

Ice Crystal Process

Otherwise known as the Bergeron process, an essential part of creating rain, the process of creating these ice crystals can only be possible with mixed-phase clouds where both ice crystals and super-cooled water can cohabitate. The pressure of the vapor makes water molecules diffuse and attach to the existing crystals, making them grow in size.

Nevertheless, it must be an exact 1 to 1 ratio of water and crystals. Otherwise, the conditions won’t allow the ice to form as it should, and each crystal won’t get the necessary amount of water to grow.

Warm Rain Process

This process is observed a lot in tropical regions, and it describes the precipitation formed in warm clouds that don’t involve an ice phase whatsoever. It consists of three steps: the activation of the nuclei, which leads to condensational growth, causing water particles to merge and create more significant drops of water, then leading to collectional growth, this being the final step of the rain before falling to land.

Cold Air Damming and Extended Lows

These are two factors that play an important role when creating freezing rain. Cold air damming is when a burst of cold air finds itself between the mountains and the coast. This air causes the cold rain that clashes with warm air and creates the final ice storm.

An extended low, on the other hand, consists of a wide area of low pressure formed in a large section of land, usually formed by the remains of a cyclone. Eventually, warm winds clash with this extended low, and under the right conditions, freezing rain occurs.

Cyclones and Fronts

Freezing rain is strongly related to cyclones, and it can happen in two different areas of the cyclone. The most common one is at the north of a warm front where the warm air condenses the water and precipitation begins. On the other hand, it can also form behind a cold front, but this scenario doesn’t cause as big of storms as those created in warm fronts.

Tips for Driving in Freezing Rain

Driving in Freezing Rain

  • Drive slowly and with caution, don’t rush. Wherever you need to be isn’t more important than your safety.
  • Give enough distance to the vehicles surrounding you. This way, you can prevent accidents.
  • Allow salt trucks to do their job and be patient with them. They are helping more people like you to stay safe.
  • Prepare your vehicle, use snow tires and winter-friendly equipment. That includes windshield wipers and windshield wiper fluid to help keep your eyes on the road.
  • The best tip and the only one that’s 100% safe is: don’t drive, stay at home unless it’s necessary.

FAQs About Freezing Rain

Is Freezing Rain Dangerous?

Yes, but as long as you act carefully and follow the safety standards, there’s no reason to worry.

How Can Freezing Rain Cause Power Failures?

The ice that forms in electrical wiring can melt and cause shortcuts. It can also break them from the weight of icicles.

Is Freezing Rain Worse Than Sleet?

Yes, freezing rain causes more danger for drivers since the whole road gets covered in ice. Meanwhile, sleet can even provide some traction from the small pellets of ice bouncing on the road.

What Is the Symbol for Freezing Rain

ZR stands for Freezing Rain (Weather Symbol)

What Temperature Is Freezing Rain

38° F

What Is the Difference Between Hail and Freezing Rain?

Freezing rain falls as liquid and freezes in the ground. Hail is ice falling to the ground.

Why Freezing Rain Instead of Snow?

The snow becomes freezing rain when it goes through that layer of warm air that allows it to melt. Snow is what happens when it doesn’t encounter that warm air.

How to Protect Plants From Freezing Rain?

Bring inside your potted plants and cover up the rest with a cloth or plastic shield.

Hopefully, you found this article helpful. If you did, make sure to share it with your family and friends. Stay safe and keep on learning!

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