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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It seems every winter we get a mixed bag of precipitation: snow, sleet, freezing rain, you name it.

Of course, so far we’ve had a very mild fall, and Kansas City is still searching for its first measurable snow. It’s easy to forget we’ll have to deal with wintry precipitation at some point.

Sometimes the forecast shows snow only possible in certain areas, words like “transitioning to freezing rain” and more fine lines that are difficult to understand.

They’re also difficult to predict.

There are four main types of precipitation that the FOX4 Weather Team focuses on during winter. Let’s take a closer look at each of them.


This one is pretty self-explanatory, right?

Temperatures are above freezing at the surface and above the surface as well. Rain falls as a liquid and stays that way.

Freezing rain

Rain’s tricky cousin, freezing rain looks the same at first but leaves behind quite a mess.

Normally, the air temperature is cooler the higher up in the atmosphere you go. But in the case of freezing rain, the temperature actually goes up.

Water droplets then fall into a thin later of cold air above the surface and become supercooled, still retaining a liquid state. But once they make contact with a surface, they gradually form a glaze of ice.


As we continue to get a little bit colder above the surface, that’s where we have another tricky layer of warm air to contend with.

But because there’s a larger pocket of colder air above the surface, it has time to refreeze. These are the ice pellets, or sleet, that you often see mixed in with other winter precipitation. Often they accumulate in a similar manner to snow.


Speaking of snow, it’s cold from top to bottom, most of the time.

The amount of moisture in the atmosphere will impact how dry or powdery the snow is — and whether you can just brush it away or will have some heavy shoveling.

It’s also possible for it to snow when it’s above 32 degrees. In the right conditions, you can even see snowflakes when it’s over 50 degrees.

Just a thin layer of cold or warm air can vastly impact a winter forecast. Just the smallest variable can change rain to snow, or vice versa, within a matter of miles. It’s these variables we look at over a period of days and even hours leading up to a storm, helping lead us to the most accurate forecast.