Decoding Wintry Weather Lingo | KERA News

Decoding Wintry Weather Lingo

Feb 11, 2014

North Texas and winter weather don’t get along so well – as we’ve witnessed over and over again the last few months. Throw in the wide range of weather jargon, and it’s … well … a mess. What in the world is freezing fog? When does sleet morph into freezing rain? And what’s in the mix of the dreaded “wintry mix”? Here’s a guide:

Breaking Down the Alerts

A winter watch, warning and advisory can get specific. Jennifer Dunn of the National Weather Service says when the agency announces a watch or warning, it could mean one of three things:

  • Snow 4 inches or greater in a 24-hour period
  • Sleet accumulation of a half-inch or greater
  • Ice accumulations a quarter-inch or greater

A winter advisory will be any precipitation amounts below that.

Breaking Down the Forecast

We can recognize that white, pink, or blue on the Doppler radar is the cold stuff, but terms like “freezing fog” and “wintry mix” can seem a little vague.

Meteorologists Predict: Freezing Rain or Drizzle

What It Means: Rain or drizzle will fall as a liquid but freeze on contact with the ground. Freezing drizzle may sound harmless, but Dunn warns that freezing rain or drizzle will form ice.

Meteorologists Predict: Freezing Fog

What It Means: It’s normal fog, but because temperatures are below freezing, it can deposit a thin layer of ice. “So not only do you have the danger of reduced visibility, but the possibility of ice on the roads as well,” says Dunn.

Meteorologists Predict: Sleet

What It Means: Raindrops that freeze into ice pellets before they reach the ground. It looks a little bit like miniature hail. Sleet can accumulate on roads, but drivers can get some traction on it. However, “if sleet starts to melt,” says Dunn. “It will create ice.”

Meteorologists Predict: Wintry Mix

What It Means: It’s the grab bag of wintry weather, so it could be freezing rain and sleet, snow and freezing fog, or any other combination Mother Nature cares to dream of. When it comes to the wintry mix, Dunn says to “expect more than one type of precipitation.”

Hitting The Roads

Sometimes driving is unavoidable in winter weather, but there are a few things to keep in mind during the cold commute:

  • Freezing rain is more slippery because it’ll likely produce ice.
  • Snow and sleet will give drivers some traction, unless either melts and then forms ice. Street plows have an easier time clearing off sleet rather than ice.
  • Bridges and overpasses freeze over first in winter weather because there is air above and below to help cool the surface faster.

And as a friendly reminder, always check the weather forecast before going out and exercise caution.