This winter season has been somewhat uneventful for the Washington, DC Metropolitan area. We have yet to experience a snowstorm that will shut down the entire region and for the most part, that is a very good thing. However, the region has had its fair share of snow, hail, ice, sleet, freezing rain and good ole fashion rain. A winter storm that has left up to a foot of snow in its wake in the Midwest is headed east. This weekend we have the potential to see all of the above in one weather event (Though, not the first time this has happened and we’re not expecting hail, but you get the point.) in the Mid-Atlantic into the Northeast. Many have wondered, “What’s the difference between the varying precipitation types?” Below you will find an easy reference guide to precipitation.
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Freezing rain - Rain that falls in liquid form but freezes upon impact to form a coating of glaze upon the ground and on exposed objects.
Hail - Precipitation in the form of balls or irregular lumps of ice, always produced by convective clouds, nearly always cumulonimbus.
Ice - The solid, crystalline form of water substance; it is found in the atmosphere as snow crystals, hail, ice pellets, etc., and on the earth's surface in forms such as hoarfrost, rime, glaze, sea ice, glacier ice, ground ice, frazil, anchor ice, etc.
Precipitation - All liquid or solid phase aqueous particles that originate in the atmosphere and fall to the earth's surface.
Rain - Precipitation in the form of liquid water drops that have diameters greater than 0.5 mm, or, if widely scattered, the drops may be smaller.
Sleet – (See Ice pellets.) A type of precipitation consisting of transparent or translucent pellets of ice, 5 mm or less in diameter.
Snow - Precipitation composed of white or translucent ice crystals, chiefly in complex branch hexagonal form and often agglomerated into snowflakes.
Now that you have a grasp of proper precipitation terminology, you are wondering, “What’s a cumulonimbus cloud?” The answer will come in another article.