How Does Freezing Rain Form?

Winter can bring a wide variety of weather conditions, including various types of precipitation. Freezing rain, for instance, can be especially hazardous and forms in very specific conditions.

frozen rain on pine branch

Different types of winter precipitation (freezing rain, sleet, and snow) form in the same fundamental way. The main difference among these precipitation types lies in the temperature profile, or how temperature changes with height. The temperature profile associated with freezing rain has particular features. For freezing rain to occur, there needs to be a deep layer of air above freezing over a shallow layer of air below freezing. The depth of the layer above freezing is crucial because it determines how much melting may occur. When the warm layer is deep, the frozen precipitation melts completely, resulting in liquid. If the surface temperature is below freezing, a coating of ice begins to form on objects near the ground, such as trees or power lines.

freezing rain layer diagram

Freezing rain can occur in two different areas of a cyclone, as seen in the graphic below. The most common area is to the north of a warm front. As the warm air lifts over the front, it condenses, and precipitation begins to develop. Occasionally, freezing rain can develop behind a cold front as moist air is forced over the cold air. This scenario is not as typical as the former; however, when freezing rain develops in this fashion, it’s usually very light.

freezing rain near cyclones diagramFreezing Rain Near Cyclones

Freezing rain can cause a wide variety of issues ranging from hazardous roads to power outages. These impacts can have implications for both personal lives, as well as businesses. If your assets are vulnerable to the effects of freezing rain, WeatherOps can help provide information to protect your company.