Parts of the mid-Atlantic and Washington D.C. were met with less-than-pleasant weather this week with freezing rain causing dangerous conditions on the road. While this weather in particular wasn’t anything that would cause long-term issues, it does raise awareness into the somewhat tricky yet relatively rare phenomenon that is freezing rain.
As this system passes, Choose Home Security wanted to take sometime to provide a little education into what freezing rain is, as well as tips to help you stay safe while on the roads, or even just walking outside of your home.
So, what is freezing rain?
The science of it
Freezing rain seems like a physically impossible event, since it should really just be snow, right? Sure, but in the world of thermodynamics lies a process known as supercooling. This is where a liquid substance, despite being in an environment where it should freeze and turn into a solid, remains in a liquid state. How does this happen? For the sake of time and practicality, let’s stick with one substance to use as an example: rain water.
Rain starts as snow when it is high up in the atmosphere, and if it’s cold enough towards the ground, it will just remain as snow. But when conditions are right for freezing rain, a warm front will pass through otherwise cold air, trapping it. As the falling snow, high up in the atmosphere initially meets the air of the warm front, it will turn into rain. But with the cool air trapped, the rain will pass through a layer of sub-freezing air and go through supercooling.
Although it should be cold enough to freeze, the rain water remains in a liquid state since no crystal nucleation occurs. This is because some rain water is free of nucleation sites – the epicenters of freezing.
As the water hits the freezing ground, nucleation occurs, and the rain water begins to instantly freeze. This is what we know as dangerous freezing rain.
Tips on staying safe
Now that you have an idea of the science behind freezing rain – how can you keep yourself safe while walking or on the roads?
Outside of your home:
- If enough ice builds up on power lines and trees, the weight could cause these structures to snap. If you have any trees on your property, it’s a good idea to be mindful of (and to remove) dead branches that are much weaker than live ones.
- If you know an ice storm is approaching, apply road salt to your driveway, or anywhere else you usually walk outside. Consider your neighbors as well!
- Stay clear of any downed power lines, and let the proper professionals handle the situation.
- Do not try to force your car door open if it is frozen shut. It would likely be best to refrain from driving all together if the ice is that bad.
On the road
- Your local authorities should have the capability of salting the roadways. If this doesn’t occur, it is better to let temperatures warm up
- If you encounter any ice, be sure to give yourself plenty of space to hit your brakes. Do not slam on your brakes, as you will just skid. Slow and controlled braking is the safer route.