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.

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

Thundersleet
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.

Noun

layer of gases surrounding Earth.

Noun

agricultural produce.

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.

Noun

precipitation that falls as ice.

Noun

water in its solid form.

ice pellet
Noun

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

Noun

liquid precipitation.

severe
Adjective

harsh.

Noun

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

snow
Noun

precipitation made of ice crystals.

snowflake
Noun

precipitation that falls as an ice crystal.

specific
Adjective

exact or precise.

Noun

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

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.

Noun

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