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Ice pellets, ice schmellets

Andrew Freedman @ 3:49 AM

I feel badly for you, Washingtonians. I'm looking out the frosted window of my apartment near Wrigley Field in Chicago at ten inches of freshly fallen snow, courtesy of the same storm system that visited you on Valentine's Day eve.

And what did the storm dump on you, the nation's capital?

Six straight hours of sleet, the most annoying precipitation type there is!

Jason Samenow's Forecast

Forecast Confidence: Medium-HighToday: Variably cloudy with a few scattered snow flurries or snow showers in the afternoon, especially north and west of Washington. High temperatures in the mid to upper 30s
Tonight: Clear, breezy and quite cold. Lows 13-17 (suburbs to city), wind chills in the single digits.
Tomorrow: Partly cloudy and brisk, highs 35-40.

A detailed week ahead forecast will appear tomorrow.

The presence of sleet indicates that the atmosphere was too warm for snow but not warm enough for rain. Instead you got a storm that was all bark and comparatively little bite.

Where snow is silent and graceful sleet is loud and bumbling.

Here's a scene between an ice pellet (sleet), a freezing raindrop, and a snowflake meeting as they fall earthward.

[Snowflake] So, what is it that you do exactly?

[Ice pellet] (Yelling) Oh me? I bounce off of things, sting faces, tap on windows, that sort of thing.

[Freezing raindrop] But, what do you look like after you hit the ground? For instance, I join with other droplets to form a glaze. I take down power grids but also shimmer in sunlight. That's duality!

[Ice pellet] We ice pellets work together too. When I come to a rest on the ground I'll congeal with others into a firm layer on the ground like the crushed ice in a 7-eleven Slurpee.

[Snowflake] That's like what I do, only more lame. Raindrop, ice pellet, it was nice to meet you. Now I must go and bring happiness to snow lovers everywhere. Snowflake, away!

Sleet usually warns that the atmosphere is going through a transition and is either warming (in a changeover from snow to rain) or cooling (in a changeover from rain to snow). Rarely does the temperature get stuck in the dreaded sleet zone and cause an entire storm to consist of a sleety snow.

Even more rarely does sleet close schools for days on end. In this case this impact was partly the result of a hard freeze that occurred soon after the main event. This locked in place the sleety snow wherever it had fallen and had yet to be removed.

The sleet was an unexpected interloper in the wintry mix menu that was on tap for the storm. The expectation of Capitalweather's forecasters as well as other experts was that the cold air would hang on only in the lowest level of the atmosphere, resulting in rain that would freeze upon contact. Instead, the cold layer was just deep enough for sleet, and lots of it.

In many respects D.C. dodged a bullet by remaining all sleet. Freezing rain would have weighed down trees and power lines and turned streets and sidewalks into skating rinks. But it also would have transformed the landscape into a shimmering and picturesque postcard.

I think the city got robbed. Mother Nature, you have only a few weeks left to make up for this slight.

Pictured: An icy landscape around the Jefferson Memorial Saturday morning. By photographer Kevin Ambrose.

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