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Snow, Ice, Flurries, & Freezing Rain: What are the differences?

Ever wondered the different forms of precipitation that plagues Midwest winters? Mainly, there is snow, ice, flurries, and freezing rain. But what sets them apart? What are their defining characteristics? Let’s explore. 


Most common is experiencing snowfall. Snow is composed of frozen water crystals. However, since most of the tiny crystals are surrounded by water, the main volume of a snow later is air. That is what gives snow a fluffy consistency if it has not been packed down. Snow originates in clouds and forms from water vapor of the air at a temperature that is less than 32°F. It is the most fun to play with as you can have snowball fights, build a snowman, and make snow angels! 


Ice forms when previous precipitation is on the ground and it reaches below freezing. In nature, the water trapped in sediment, solid, and pores of rocks can turn into ice. Ice can also form on your car, belongings, pretty much anywhere. In polar regions, permafrost is a thick subsurface of soil that remains frozen throughout the year. Ice can also form on lakes, rivers, and the ocean in cold weather. While remaining careful, you can enjoy Madison’s annual Lily’s Classic, a hockey tournament on the ice. 


Flurries are an intermittent light snowfall over a short period of time. They are generally light snow showers with no measurable accumulation, according to NOAA. Therefore, it won’t show up on the ground. But, it can decrease visibility as the light snowfall makes the snow disseminate everywhere in the air. Add wind to the occasion and you’ll have a really awful time. 

Freezing Rain

According to The National Weather Service, freezing rain occurs when the layer of freezing air is so thin that the raindrops do not have a chance to freeze before reaching the ground. Instead, the water freezes on contact with the surface, which in turn creates a thin layer of ice wherever the raindrop makes contact. This is also informally known as sleet, not to be confused with hail which is a form of solid precipitation consisting of balls. Got it?

In the Canadian Province Nova Scotia, residents set the current world record of 22,022 snow angels made simultaneously in 2011. Canada strikes again as holding the world record for the largest snowball fight. Organized by the City of Saskatoon, Canada, 7,681 people participated in this fun event. According to NPR, contaminants in snow remain well below the toxic level, so you can have a taste if you want!

Well congratulations, you can now be the coolest person at a party when you start listing the differences between winter precipitation! 

~ Nina Petrosino, Snow Scholars Writer

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