Skip to Content

Comparing winter precipitation types and their threats

A vehicle's bumper lays in the snow after a crash at Providence Road and Worley Street in Columbia on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021.
A vehicle's bumper lays in the snow after a crash at Providence Road and Worley Street in Columbia on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021.

It's the time of year again where temperatures begin to dip near freezing and rain showers shift to snow and ice storms.

You'll likely hear about many different types of winter precipitation such as freezing rain, sleet and snow, but what are these exactly and what risks do they pose?

Knowing what is coming will help you better prepare for the risks of winter weather. Forecasters can get an early insight into what kind of precipitation is expected based on predicted temperatures in the atmosphere.


If the entire atmosphere is below freezing, snow is likely. Sleet and freezing rain are possible when portions of the atmosphere are above freezing.

Sleet tends to occur with a more shallow warm layer aloft, allowing raindrops time to freeze again before they reach the surface. Freezing rain starts off as ice in clouds that melt into raindrops in a deep warm layer. If the surface is below freezing, these raindrops will instantly freeze on contact and freezing rain is the result! Each of these different winter phenomena also carries an array of hazards.


Mid-Missouri is no stranger to snow and its ability to block roadways and cause widespread power outages. Also common in our area, sleet can cause property damage and snap tree limbs to quickly knock out power.

Perhaps the most dangerous, and least understood, is freezing rain and its ability to coat surfaces and inundate roads quickly. It takes less than half an inch of freezing rain for catastrophic impacts on roads.


When winter weather makes roads hazardous, it's important to remember a few safety tips if you're heading out. Always reduce your speed and be extra vigilant when any precipitation impacts your commute. Also, give yourself plenty of space between vehicles around you when roads are slick. A first aid kit and blankets are never a bad thing to have in your car during the wintertime either.

Stay up to date on the forecast in Mid-Missouri as well by downloading the ABC17 Stormtrack Weather app.

Keeping these tips in mind will help you stay safer during winter travel.

Author Profile Photo

Nate Splater

Nate forecasts on the weekend edition of ABC 17 News This Morning on KMIZ and FOX 22, KQFX.


Leave a Reply

Skip to content