Winter precipitation here in east-central Ohio comes in both liquid and frozen form. The type, liquid or frozen, depends on air temperature both at the surface where we are AND higher up in the atmosphere. Contrary to what some might think, the air temperature can vary significantly as we go higher overhead. It may even contain layers of warm air. These layers of different temperature and where they’re located will impact they type of precipitation that eventually makes it to the ground.
Graupel is another type of frozen precipitation we often see here in east-central Ohio – especially when the seasons are changing from autumn to winter and again in the early spring. Graupel is often confused with hail but hail is always formed in strong thunderstorms. Graupel starts out as snow then melts back to liquid and its way down, then, refreezes before making it to the surface.
It also looks much different than hail. Hail is milky white with a hard surface. Graupel looks like little white fuzzy balls of snow – commonly called ‘snow pellets’.
We usually deal with rain fairly easily but sometimes just plain old rain can bring dangerous travel conditions if surfaces are cold enough for rain to freeze on contact with hard surfaces – freezing rain.
Freezing rain is hazardous both for wheels and feet. Even a thin layer of ice on a hard surface – the road, sidewalk, outdoor stairs, decks, patios, etc. – can cause falls, accidents and serious injury. Freezing rain accumulating on power lines can stress them to breaking resulting in power outages.
There is absolutely no safe speed on the road when encountering freezing rain and ice. And, it doesn’t matter if you have two-wheel or four-wheel drive – either one will slide right along on ice just fine. We’ve all read or seen the graphic news images of multi-vehicle pile ups resulting from the dreaded ‘black ice’.
Going by foot isn’t much safer, either. If you’re walking along and hit a patch of ice…. well, you know. You’re going down – and hard. Don’t even THINK about stairs.
The best and safest advice is to just stay in when freezing rain is expected or is underway. Icy roads and walkways are probably the greatest weather-related winter hazard to the most people.