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What Is Sleet?

The word “sleet” is generally associated with winter, but its exact meaning varies. For Europeans, sleet means half-melted snow that has not yet reached the ground. For Americans, however, it’s wet snow that’s already accumulated (to their dismay) on streets, driveways and fields. In other words, it’s slush.

Either way, sleet contains frozen rain drops: hundreds or even thousands of small ice pellets. Very often it is accompanied by very cold rain. Combined, these can turn the pavement into a very icy, very slippery, and very dangerous surface that is nearly impossible to traverse—even in a car.

Sleet can also cause more damage than snow. That’s because all snow can really do is slow everything down. Sleet, on the other hand, can cling to power lines and tree limbs, weighing them down and eventually causing them to sag from the pressure and finally break. There have been cases of neighborhoods losing electricity because of sleet “attacking” main power lines.

Unlike hail, though, sleet only happens in the winter months. Ice pellets formed in other time of the year is associated with severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Sleet, on the other hand, is created by the clash between warm and cold air in the winter storm weather system.

Sleet is different from hail, in that sleet is seen exclusively in the winter months. It is a product of a winter storm system. Hail, on the other hand, may fall any time during the year. It is associated with severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.

For safety reasons it is best to stay indoors whenever there is an announcement of sleet and an ice storm. Travel is very dangerous, since even the best cars can skid or lose control on an ice-covered street.

Featured in Science