Monday, February 25, 2019

Episode 461 (2-25-19): The Different Falling Fates of Snow, Sleet, and Freezing Rain

Click to listen to episode (4:13).

Sections below are the following:
Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.).

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 2-22-19.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of February 25, 2019.

MUSIC – ~ 7 sec

This week, that excerpt of “Winter’s Fall,” by the Blacksburg- and Roanoke, Va.-based group No Strings Attached, opens an episode on the differences among three kinds of winter fall—that is, three kinds of frozen precipitation.  We set the stage with some winter-storm mystery sounds.  Have a listen for about 20 seconds see if you can guess what kind of falling frozen water you’re hearing.

SOUNDS - ~18 sec

If you guessed sleet, you’re right! You heard sleet falling in Blacksburg on February 17, along with a NOAA Weather Radio winter storm forecast for Southside Virginia on February 19.  As the Weather Radio forecast shows, winter storms in Virginia can bring a hard-to-predict mix—some might say, mess—of snow, sleet, and freezing rain.  What’s alike and what’s different among these three precipitation types?

All typically start as snow high up in in the atmosphere, where collections of ice crystals combine into snowflakes.  If those flakes encounter only sub-freezing air as they fall, they’ll reach the ground as snow.  If, however, snowflakes encounter a warmer air mass on their way down, sleet or freezing rain can result.   If that warm air mass is relatively narrow and more cold air is encountered below it, the melted flakes can refreeze and fall to the ground as pellets of sleet.   On the other hand, if that warm air mass is wide and reaches relatively close to ground, cold, liquid raindrops can fall and, upon contact with surfaces at sub-freezing temperature, turn into coatings of ice—that’s freezing rain.

Predicting whether a storm will result in snow, sleet, freezing rain, or just rain is complicated for forecasters, as shown by the Weather Radio forecast you heard earlier.  And, of course, it’s crucial for public safety.   Sleet may have relatively minor impacts, but we all know the challenges of snow, and significant accumulations of freezing rain—also called ice storms—can be especially hazardous from slick roads and downed trees and powerlines.

Thanks to No Strings Attached for permission to use this week’s opening music.  We close with some other music that sounds something like sleet, as its composer said, although the selection’s name isn’t what most people associate with sleet or freezing rain.  Here’s a short part of “Pure Joy,” by Timothy Seaman of Williamsburg, Va.

MUSIC – ~ 15 sec


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close this show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The sleet sound was recorded by Virginia Water Radio on February 17, 2019, in Blacksburg, Va.

“Winter’s Fall,” from the 1999 album “In the Vinyl Tradition, Vol. II,” is copyright by No Strings Attached and Enessay Music, used with permission.  This selection was featured previously in Virginia Water Radio Episode 258, 3-23-15.  More information about No Strings Attached is available from their Web site,

“Pure Joy,” from the 2004 album “Profound Joy,” is copyright by Timothy Seaman and Pine Wind Music, used with permission.  More information about Timothy Seaman is available online at

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (1 min./11 sec.) of the “Cripple Creek” arrangement/performance by Stewart Scales that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard, with which Mr. Scales plays, is available online at


Following are four diagrams about the different atmospheric conditions that result in rain snow, sleet, or freezing rain.

From National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)/National Weather Service, “Freezing Rain and Sleet,” online at

Three diagrams above all from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)/National Severe Storms Laboratory, “Severe Weather 101—Winter Weather,” online at


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)/National Severe Storms Laboratory, “Severe Weather 101—Winter Weather,” online at

NOAA/National Weather Service, “Freezing Rain and Sleet,” online at

NOAA/National Weather Service, “Will it rain, sleet, or snow?”, online at

Doyle Rice, “Sleet vs. freezing rain vs. hail. What’s the difference?” in USA Today, 3/14/17, online at

The Weather Channel, “Sleet and Freezing Rain: What’s the Difference?” online at

University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, “Winter Storms,” online at; and “Will It Rain, Sleet, or Snow?” online at


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  See particularly the “Weather/Natural Disasters” subject category.

Following are links to other episodes on topics relevant to winter.
Episode 258, 3-23-15 – on winter precipitation and water supplies.
Episode 300, 1-25-16 – on words for snow.
Episode 387, 9-25-17 – on frost.
Episode 403, 1-15-18 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18 – on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.

Following are links to annual episodes on winter-weather preparedness.
Episode 190, 12-2-13.
Episode 242, 12-1-14, featuring “Cold World” by Kat Mills.
Episode 292, 11-30-15, featuring “Winter is Coming” by The Steel Wheels.
Episode 344, 11-28-16, featuring “Drive the Cold Winter Away” by Timothy Seaman.
Episode 396, 11-27-17, featuring “Winter’s Fall” by No Strings Attached.
Episode 448, 11/26/18, featuring “New Boots” by John McCutcheon.


The episode—the audio, extra information, or sources—may help with the following Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).

2013 Music SOLs

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

2010 Science SOLs

Grades K-6 Earth Patterns, Cycles, and Change Theme
3.9 – Water cycle, including sources of water, energy driving water cycle, water essential for living things, and water limitations and conservation.

Grades K-6 Interrelationships in Earth/Space Systems Theme
2.6 – identification of common storms and other weather phenomena.
4.6 – weather conditions, phenomena, and measurements.

Grades K-6 Matter Theme
6.6 – Properties of air (including pressure, temperature, and humidity) and structure/dynamics of earth’s atmosphere, including weather topics.

Earth Science Course
ES.12 – weather and climate.

2015 Social Studies SOLs
Grades K-3 Geography Theme
1.6 – Virginia climate, seasons, and landforms.

World Geography Course
WG.2 – how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including climate, weather, and how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.
Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15 – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18 – on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.