Sleet is a confusing type of winter precip that’s easily misunderstood. Contrary to popular belief, sleet is not hail and hail is not sleet. It forms in a much different process than hail, but can have a similar appearance. Hail is usually much larger, and doesn’t happen often in the winter. It only forms in strong thunderstorm clouds. On the other hand, sleet’s not a byproduct of a thunderstorm. Sleet’s basically a refrozen raindrop, and is pretty much a grain of ice when it hits the surface. As raindrops fall from clouds, they pass through layers of air at different temperatures. If they intercept a layer with temperatures below freezing, they quickly freeze and turn into sleet. Snowflakes falling through a region of warmer air that melt and then refreeze are also called sleet. The region of warmer air in clouds is called meteorologically known as a temperature inversion. Temperatures typically drop as you reach higher altitudes. Sometimes there can be a pocket of warmer air due to fronts, land topography, or different air masses.
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