Today’s Ask Storm Team 11 question comes from Sammy Abelseth. Sammy asks, “Which season is the hardest to forecast?”. There are many challenges in the world of forecasting. Winter is one of the hardest seasons to forecast, more specifically, forecasting the precipitation type.
Generally, the layer of air near the surface is warmest, and cools going up into the atmosphere. This isn’t always the case, as different layers can have different temperatures. This makes all the difference in what time of precipitation falls at the surface.
Plain rain actually starts off as snow in the cloud layer where temperatures are below freezing. As it falls to the surface into a warmer layer, it melts and we see rain at the ground.
Freezing rain occurs when snow that has melted to rain come into contact with a below freezing surface. Here the rain refreezes and can cause roads to freeze.
When snow that melts into rain in the above freezing layer enters another below freezing layer, it has enough time to freeze and fall to the surface as ice pellets. This is called sleet.
If the entire atmospheric profile from the clouds to surface is below freezing, the snow will stay snow!
Not only do meteorologist need to forecast the temperatures we experience at the surface, but even up into the atmosphere. Being only a degree or two off can make all the different in the type of precipitation we receive in the winter!