CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Sleet and freezing rain are two different types of winter precipitation.
We see sleet in the form of small ice pellets that bounce when they hit our windshields and the ground. Freezing rain is actually liquid rain that freezes on contact with sub-freezing surfaces on the ground, trees, power lines and cars.
The type of winter precipitation we receive is highly dependent upon the temperature inside the clouds and the temperatures we find between the cloud bottom and the ground. Sleet and freezing rain happen when we have a layer of above-freezing air in the clouds and temperatures below freezing again near the ground.
Snowflakes may partially melt in the layer of warm air then freeze back into sleet pellets near the ground. If snowflakes melt completely in a layer of warm air, but surface temperatures are below freezing, rain will freeze on contact and become a layer of ice.