Difference Between Sleet and Freezing Rain

Sleet vs Freezing Rain

Those living in countries with cold climate experience different types of rains and hailstorms that are confusing for those who are there for the first time. Two such words used are freezing rain and sleet. There are similarities between them but also differences to classify as two different types of rains. Let us take a closer look.

Freezing Rain

Rain that gets frozen after it hits an object while on its way to the ground is what is called freezing rain. It is actually not frozen but, you see it as frozen, after striking a power line cable or branch of a tree. However, it starts as snow but melts when it comes in contact with falling water. It remains water until it hits something before hitting the ground. People are caught unawares as freezing rain looks like normal rain but feel extremely cold when they are without a protection such as an umbrella or a raincoat. When the ground temperature is below freezing point, this water turns ice automatically. What is surprising is that freezing rain is a phenomenon lasting a very short time period as any fluctuation in the ground temperature can turn the water into snow or keep it as rain. Often power outages are caused by freezing rain as it accumulates on power lines so that they become too heavy and break down.


Ice pellets are labeled as sleet in US. It is actually snow that first melts in contact with water but refreezes before striking the ground in the form of ice pellets. It falls so fast that we see that bouncing from the windshields of cars or even rooftops. Snow that is falling melts when it comes in contact with warmer layer of air but refreezes again in the form of ice pellets. Though sleet bounces off, some of it accumulates on the road making the driving extremely risky.


What is the difference between Sleet and Freezing Rain?

• Sleet is ice pellets before hitting the ground, whereas freezing rain becomes snow when it hits the ground or an object just above the ground.

• Freezing rain makes a glaze of ice over roads while road gets covered with ice pellets in case of sleet.

• Freezing air above ground turns water into ice pellets in the case of sleet, and the unique feature of sleet is that it bounces off all surfaces it falls upon.