Freezing Rain Unmasked: The Science Behind This Icy Phenomenon

Last Updated on March 21, 2023 by Mattias

Ever wondered how freezing rain forms and why it can be so treacherous? This icy weather phenomenon can turn roads, sidewalks, and trees into a slippery nightmare, but understanding its formation can help you stay prepared and safe.

This article will delve into the science behind freezing rain and its formation, shedding light on this fascinating meteorological event.
Keep reading to find out, “What is freezing rain?”

What is Freezing Rain?

Freezing rain is a type of precipitation that occurs when supercooled raindrops freeze upon contact with surfaces that are at or below freezing temperatures. Unlike sleet or snow, freezing rain starts as liquid droplets in the atmosphere and only turns into ice when it encounters cold surfaces on the ground.

How Does Freezing Rain Form?

Temperature Layers and Freezing Rain

The formation of freezing rain involves a unique layering of temperatures in the atmosphere. For freezing rain to occur, a warm layer of air must be above a subfreezing layer near the ground. This temperature profile allows snowflakes to melt into raindrops as they fall through the warm layer, only to freeze instantly when they hit the ground, creating a dangerous layer of ice.

The Role of Supercooling

Supercooling is a critical factor in the formation of freezing rain. When raindrops fall through the subfreezing layer close to the ground, they remain in a liquid state even though the temperature is below freezing. This is because the water molecules have not yet formed a crystalline structure. When these supercooled droplets encounter a freezing surface, such as a tree branch or a road, they instantly freeze and create a glaze of ice.

The Impact of Freezing Rain

Freezing rain can have severe consequences, causing power outages, hazardous road conditions, and damage to infrastructure. The weight of accumulated ice on trees and power lines can lead to breakages and collapse, while icy roads make driving treacherous and increase the risk of accidents.

What does freezing rain look like? 

Freezing rain looks like snow and a little bit like hail and sleet. 


What is the difference between freezing rain and sleet?

Freezing rain starts as snowflakes that melt into raindrops and freeze upon contact with a surface. Sleet, conversely, starts as snowflakes that partially melt and refreeze into ice pellets before reaching the ground.

Why is freezing rain more dangerous than snow or sleet?

Freezing rain creates a layer of ice on surfaces, making roads, sidewalks, and other structures extremely slippery and hazardous. This increases the risk of accidents, leading to widespread power outages and infrastructure damage.

How can I prepare for freezing rain?

Stay updated on weather forecasts, and if freezing rain is expected, take precautions such as applying ice melt to walkways, ensuring your vehicle is equipped for icy conditions, and staying off the roads when possible.

9 Tips when Driving in Freezing Rain 

The best thing would be to keep your car off the road. But if you’re going to drive when there’s freezing rain, then follow these tips:

1. Slow down – Drive slowly so you can break if needed. 

2. Don’t use cruise control – Always keep your foot on the gas. This gives you more control over your vehicle. 

3. Keep a good distance between you and other vehicles – So you can break if needed.

4. Avoid sudden acceleration – This can cause your vehicle to skid, and you might lose control of it.  

5. If possible: Avoid breaking your vehicle – This can also cause your vehicle to skid. 

6. Plan your drive if you can – make sure you aren’t in a rush for your destination; if you are, don’t drive fast. You’ll only risk yourself and other drivers. 

7. Watch out for snowplows – All the trucks will be sanding/salting the roads. Avoid passing them since it’s safer to stay behind.

8. Use your wipers and fluid – Freezing rain can build up on your windshield, which makes your vision even worse in an already bad situation. Use your wipers and fluid to keep your vision clear. 

9. Use your winter tires – Good tires are essential when driving in freezing rain. 

What is Freezing Rain Summary  

Freezing rain is a fascinating and potentially dangerous weather phenomenon that occurs when supercooled raindrops freeze upon contact with surfaces at or below freezing-temperatures.

Understanding the science behind its formation, including the unique layering of temperatures and the role of supercooling, can help us better prepare for and navigate the challenges posed by this icy event. Stay informed and take precautions to stay safe during freezing rain episodes.