Monday, January 24, 2022

Episode 613 (1-24-22): The Different Falling Fates of Snow, Sleet, and Freezing Rain

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (4:34).

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 1-21-22.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of January 24, 2022.  This revised episode from February 2019 is part of a series this year of winter-related episodes.

MUSIC – ~18 sec – Lyrics: “Now my house is feelin’ empty, and the trees are bare.”

This week, that excerpt of “Cold World,” by Blacksburg, Va., musician Kat Mills, opens an episode on the differences among three kinds of frozen precipitation experienced when Virginia’s world turns cold.  We set the stage with some winter-storm mystery sounds, including one of those kinds of precipitation.  Have a listen for about 20 seconds and see if you can guess what kind of falling frozen water you’re hearing.

SOUND and RADIO VOICE  - ~18 sec – “Rest of tonight: rain or snow until midnight; then snow or sleet or rain or freezing rain.  Snow and sleet accumulation up to one inch; additional ice accumulation around a trace.”

If you guessed sleet, you’re right!  You heard sleet falling in Blacksburg on February 17, 2019, along with a NOAA Weather Radio winter storm forecast for Southside Virginia on February 19, 2019.  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 the 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.  And, of course, it’s crucial for public safety.   While sleet may have relatively less impact, 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 Kat Mills for permission to use this week’s opening music.  We close with some other music that sounds something like sleet, its composer has said, with a title that fits the reaction of many children to snow.  Here’s about 15 seconds of “Pure Joy,” by Timothy Seaman of Williamsburg, Va.

MUSIC – ~ 15 sec – instrumental.


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 Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close this episode.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


This Virginia Water Radio episode revises and replaces Episode 461, 2-25-19.

“Cold World,” from the 2003 album “Long Time,” is copyright by Kat Mills and Sweetcut Music, used with permission.  More information about Kat Mills is available online at and at  This music was used previously by Virginia Water Radio most recently in Episode 553, 11-30-20, on winter weather preparedness.

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

The NOAA Weather Radio comments were recorded by Virginia Water Radio from the February 19, 2019, broadcast by the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Blacksburg, Va., on WXL 60, during that broadcast’s evening forecast for Southside Virginia and nearby areas of North Carolina.

“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 (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at


Following are diagrams on the formation of snow, sleet, and freezing rain, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (specific sources are provided in captions below the images).

The diagram above was taken from the NOAA/National Weather Service, “Freezing Rain and Sleet,” online at

The three diagrams above were all taken from NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, “Severe Weather 101—Winter Weather,” online at


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio, online at

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

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

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)/National Weather Service, “Will it rain, sleet, or snow?”, online at

Doyle Rice, “Sleet vs. freezing rain vs. hail.  What’s the difference?”  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 (UCAR)/Center for Science Education, “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/Climate/Natural Disasters” subject categories.

Following are links to several other winter-related episodes, including episodes on some birds that reside in Virginia typically only in winter (listed separately).  Please note that some of these episodes may be redone in early 2022; in those cases, the respective links below will have information on the updated episodes.

Frost – Episode 597, 10-4-21.
Freezing and ice – Episode 606, 12-6-21 (especially for grades K-3).
Ice on ponds and lakes – Episode 404, 1-22-18 (especially for grades 4-8).
Ice on rivers – Episode 406, 2-5-18 (especially for middle school grades).
Polar Plunge® for Special Olympics – Episode 356, 2-20-17.
Snow physics and chemistry – Episode 407, 2-12-18 (especially for high school grades).
Snow terms – Episode 612, 1-17-22.
Surviving freezing – Episode 556, 12-21-20.
Winter precipitation and water supplies – Episode 567, 3-8-21.
Winter weather preparedness – Episode 605, 11-29-21.
Water thermodynamics – Episode 610, 1-3-22. 

Bird-related Episodes for Winter

Audubon Society Christmas Bird CountEpisode 607, 12-13-21.
American Avocet – Episode 543, 9-21-20.
Brant (goose) – Episode 502, 12-9-19.
Canvasback (duck) – Episode 604, 11-22-21.
Common Goldeneye (duck) – Episode 303, 2-15-16.
Green-winged Teal (duck) – Episode 398, 12-11-17.
Grebes (Horned and Red-necked) – Episode 233, 9-29-14.
Loons – Episode 445, 11-5-18.
Fall migration – Episode 603, 11-15-21.
Northern Harrier – Episode 561, 1-25-21.
Snow Goose – Episode 507, 1-13-20.
Tundra Swan – Episode 554, 12-7-20.
Winter birds sampler from the Chesapeake Bay area – Episode 565, 2-22-21.


Following are some Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) that may be supported by this episode’s audio/transcript, sources, or other information included in this post.

2020 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.”

2018 Science SOLs

Grades K-3 plus 5: Matter
K.4 – Water is important in our daily lives and has properties.
2.3 – Matter can exist in different phases.

Grades K-5: Earth and Space Systems
2.6 – There are different types of weather on Earth.
4.4 – Weather conditions and climate have effects on ecosystems and can be predicted.

Grade 6
6.6 – Water has unique physical properties and has a role in the natural and human-made environment. 6.7 – Air has properties and the Earth’s atmosphere has structure and is dynamic.

Earth Science
ES.11 – The atmosphere is a complex, dynamic system subject to long-and short-term variations.
ES.12 – The Earth’s weather and climate result from the interaction of the sun’s energy with the atmosphere, oceans, and the land.

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 (* indicates episode listed above in the “Related Water Radio Episodes” section).

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 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.
Episode 483, 7-29-19 – on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.
Episode 524, 5-11-20 – on sounds by water-related animals, for elementary school through high school. Episode 531, 6-29-20 – on various ways that animals get water, for 3rd and 4th grade.
Episode 539, 8-24-20 – on basic numbers and facts about Virginia’s water resources, for 4th and 6th grade.
*Episode 606, 12-6-21 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.