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The science of precipitation | Weather Wise Lessons

We see everything from rain to sleet to snow. What determines the kind of precipitation we get?

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Here in Kentuckiana, we can get every kind of precipitation - from rain to sleet to snow and everything in between. Sometimes we even get all three at once.

So, what determines the type of precipitation we get? Much of the determination is due to different temperatures in various layers of the atmosphere.

Clouds high in the atmosphere tend to be very cold. As precipitation falls down to earth, it can encounter warm and cold layers of air. If it only encounters temperatures above freezing - greater than 32 degrees - it will fall as rain.

Now, if that droplet falls through warm air first, then hits a layer of very cold air at the surface, it can become freezing rain. The drop would begin as ice, then turn to rain, then freeze on contact with the cold ground.

Next, let's talk about sleet. Sleet begins as ice high in the atmosphere, falls through a thin layer of warm air and then into another layer of cold air, giving it enough time to re-freeze before it hits the ground.

Last but not least - snow. Snow reaches the ground when it only encounters layers of the atmosphere below 32 degrees.

Bonus fact: Did you know that no two snowflakes are alike?

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Contact meteorologist Kaitlynn Fish at kfish@whas11.com and follow her on Twitter (@KaitlynnFish) and Facebook.

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