Difference Between Sleet and Hail

Sleet vs Hail

Though it may appear confusing at first, you can easily see the difference between sleet and hail if you pay attention to the size and the time of year each phenomenon occurs. Now tell me. Have you been sucked by hail in the midst of a picnic? Have you ever had trouble walking on the slippery sidewalks during winter because of sleet? These are weather phenomena best experienced from your window or rooftop rather than having to face when you are trying to catch a bus on the street. Many people cannot make out differences between these two weather phenomena, because for them both sleet and hail appear as the same. It is really foolish for someone to say he was hit by hail during a winter storm. This article attempts to clarify these differences between hail and sleet to remove all doubts from the minds of the readers.

What is Sleet?

Sleet is small in size, and it occurs during the winter. Sleet is frozen raindrops that bounce when they hit a hard surface. During the winter, water falls from the clouds as snow. Slate occurs during a winter storm and takes place when falling rain or snowflakes comes into contact with a warm layer of air. Then, the drop melts slightly. After that, it goes through a colder zone, which will turn this dropping of partially melt snow to an ice pellet. These ice pellets accumulate in roads and sidewalks making it hazardous to walk and drive. You can describe sleet as ice pellets.

Difference Between Sleet and Hail

What is Hail?

Hail is one weather phenomenon that is seen during summer months when thunderstorms occur. Hail is a result of strong updrafts that carry with them chunks of ice upwards into the clouds. During thunderstorms, water freezes into snowflakes in the middle part of the cloud where there is an updraft, changing them into ice pellets. These pellets grow in size as more and more droplets accumulate. With an updraft, they go up in the clouds and with downdrafts they come down in clouds. When these hail stones become too heavy to be lifted by updrafts, they fall on the ground. Hail stones are much bigger than ice pellets that one sees in a sleet. Hail has been known to cause damage to crops and occasionally to drivers as they can break windshields of cars. You can understand how big and heavy a hail must be if it can break a windshield of a car. As we all know, a windshield does not break easily as it is made of a thick layer of glass.

 Sleet vs Hail

What is the difference between Sleet and Hail?

• The most notable difference between sleet and hail is the size of the ice pellets. While sleet is the size of peas, hail stones can be much bigger in size.

• Hail forms in the following way. The updrafts made by severe storms carry the raindrops that are gathered at the bottom of the cloud to the top of the cloud. At this point, the temperature is cold. If this cool water comes into contact with a dust particle or an ice crystal, the water freezes around it. So, now a tiny hail is made. Then, with downdraft, this hail comes to the bottom of the cloud. Then, again it goes up with an updraft. Each time this action repeats more and more water is frozen around the initial hail. When the updraft can no longer lift it, the hail drops to the ground.

• Sleet happens when the snowflake or raindrop goes through a warmer layer of air. Then, the snowflake begins to melt. After that, it continues to fall and goes through a colder layer of air. At this point, it turns into an ice pellet and falls to the ground.

• Sleet causes inconvenience at best, getting accumulated on streets and sidewalks whereas hailstones can cause damage to crops and cars breaking their windshields.

• Hail occurs mostly during summer thunderstorms whereas sleet occurs mostly in winter.

• Sleet may create an ice layer that remains for several hours creating very unsafe, slippery driving conditions on roads. Sleet can also make walking on pavements difficult as it is slippery. Hail makes really dangerous to travel while there is hail as it can cause more damage.

• Sleet falls once. However, hail falls and climbs inside clouds with updrafts and downdrafts many times until they finally fall to the ground.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Sleet on the ground by mike epp (CC BY 2.0)
  2. Hail via Wikicommons (Public Domain)