Photograph by Emily Seigle, MyShot
  • Sleet is rain or melted snow that freezes into ice pellets before hitting the ground. Sleet only happens under very specific weather conditions.

    There must be a layer of air near the ground whose temperature is below freezing, where water turns to ice. Above this layer of freezing air must be a layer of warmer air. As snow falls through the warm air, it melts or partially melts into raindrops. As the melted snow falls through the cold layer of air, it re-freezes. It forms ice pellets, or sleet, before hitting the ground.

    Sleet falls as tiny, hard pieces of ice. Sleet usually cannot do severe damage to crops or transportation systems the way heavy snow, freezing rain, or hail can. In fact, sleet is so light and tiny it usually bounces when it hits a hard surface.

    Sleet is not the same as freezing rain. Freezing rain also falls through a cold layer of air close to the ground. However, the rain does not freeze until it touches the surface of an object. When you see trees coated in jackets of ice, you are seeing the results of freezing rain. The rain was liquid when it landed on the tree branch, then immediately froze solid.

    Sleet also is not the same as hail. Hail, like sleet, is a collection of ice pellets. But hail forms in a cloud, while sleet forms as it falls. Hail freezes from the inside out, while sleet freezes from the outside in. Hail also tends to fall during thunderstorms in the spring and summer. Sleet usually falls in the winter.

    Sometimes, a mixture of rain and snow is identified as "sleet."

    A severe winter storm struck the U.S. states of Kentucky and Indiana in December 2004. In addition to record snowfalls and freezing rain, some areas received an amazing 15 centimeters (6 inches) of sleet. The storm also included thundersleet, a rare thunderstorm in which sleet falls instead of rain.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    air Noun

    layer of gases surrounding Earth.

    Encyclopedic Entry: air
    crop Noun

    agricultural produce.

    Encyclopedic Entry: crop
    damage Noun

    harm that reduces usefulness or value.

    freeze Noun

    weather pattern of temperatures below 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit).

    freezing rain Noun

    liquid precipitation that hardens to ice when it touches a surface.

    hail Noun

    precipitation that falls as ice.

    Encyclopedic Entry: hail
    ice Noun

    water in its solid form.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ice
    ice pellet Noun

    rain that freezes as it falls to Earth. Also called sleet.

    rain Noun

    liquid precipitation.

    Encyclopedic Entry: rain
    severe Adjective


    sleet Noun

    rain that freezes as it falls to Earth. Also called ice pellets.

    Encyclopedic Entry: sleet
    snow Noun

    precipitation made of ice crystals.

    snowflake Noun

    precipitation that falls as an ice crystal.

    specific Adjective

    exact or precise.

    temperature Noun

    degree of hotness or coldness measured by a thermometer with a numerical scale.

    Encyclopedic Entry: temperature
    thundersleet Noun

    storm in which sleet falls instead of rain.

    thunderstorm Noun

    cloud that produces thunder and lightning, often accompanied by heavy rains.

    transportation Noun

    movement of people or goods from one place to another.

    water Noun

    chemical compound that is necessary for all forms of life.

    weather Noun

    state of the atmosphere, including temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity, precipitation, and cloudiness.

    Encyclopedic Entry: weather