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Know Your Winter Precipitation

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With some long range forecast models suggesting wintry precipitation this weekend as well as the start of the next work week, it's time to brush up on our winter weather lingo. What exactly do meteorologists mean when we say "wintry precipitation"? Snow? Sleet? Freezing rain? Snizzle? What exactly is snizzle? Okay, I made that one up, but the first three are very much real. Time to distinguish between the primary elements we do battle with every winter in Oklahoma.

Snow: Ice crystals in an intricate, branched, hexagonal form – six sides. When these "snowflakes" get big enough within a cloud, gravity pulls them down to the surface. Snowflakes can grow even larger by colliding, and sticking with other snowflakes.

Sleet: Also known as ice pellets, are small bits of ice that typically occur in the transition from freezing rain to snow. These ice pellets are what ping, or bounce off hard surfaces. They can result in slick surfaces, but not as much as the next form of wintry precipitation.

Freezing rain: The worst type of wintry precipitation in this meteorologist's humble opinion. This is precipitation that falls in the liquid form, but freezes on contact with EVERYTHING. Temperatures at the surface are typically at, or below the freezing point of 32 degrees Fahrenheit when freezing rain occurs, as well as the surfaces the rain freezes/accretes to.  

There are a few less known types of wintry or frozen precipitation, but the aforementioned are the big three.

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