CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – A snow and wintry mix is coming Wednesday afternoon and will be transitioning into sleet and freezing rain, but what is the difference?

The distinction between both wintry precipitation types depends on the thickness of the layer of freezing air.

Freezing Rain

Freezing rain, made up of liquid droplets, occurs when the layer of freezing air is so thin that the raindrops don’t have enough time to freeze before reaching the ground. Instead, the water freezes on contact, causing a layer of ice to form. The National Weather Service says this will happen when anything is at or below freezing (32 degrees F).


Sleet or also called ice pellets, is a mixture of both snow and rain, forms when snow falls from a cloud and melts as it falls through a layer above freezing and then falls back through another layer below freezing. The raindrop freezes and falls to the ground as sleet and can accumulate much like snow. When the ice pellets do fall to the ground, they bounce. Does this make sleet more dangerous than freezing rain?

Is sleet or freezing rain more dangerous?

Both sleet and freezing rain can be hazardous. The small ice pellets quickly bounce off surfaces, while freezing rain forms a sheet of solid ice. And light accumulations of freezing rain can cause dangerous travel, making freezing rain arguably the most dangerous type of wintry weather.

Heavier amounts can also lead to trees and power lines coming down. When freezing rain continues for many hours, an ice storm can form. However, the combination of both sleet and freezing rain leads to even more build-up on roadways. It is recommended by the National Weather Service to avoid travel if possible.

Vehicle preparedness and safety

If you are heading onto the road it is important to drive cautiously and make sure you fully check and winterize your vehicle. It is important to check your car battery has enough power and see if your car is filled with antifreeze and gas.

And western Massachusetts is in for all different types of precipitation through Thursday morning. There will be steady snow in the early evening and won’t transition to sleet and freezing rain from south to north until after 9:00 p.m. Wednesday.