All Weather News

Why Is Ice So Dangerous?

boulder iceWhen you think of winter storms, most will typically associate them with images of cars spinning out in feet of snow, strong winds and miserable-looking pedestrians attempting to block out the cold with thick parkas.

But perhaps the greatest threat of Mother Nature’s wintry arsenal comes in the form of ice, and most specifically freezing rain.
Freezing rain – aptly named, as it’s just simply rain that falls on surface temperatures at or below the freezing mark – forms when the an inversion, or warmer air at the upper levels of the atmosphere,
So why is freezing rain such a big hazard and concern for us? There are two characteristics of it that are of particular concern:

1) Water is heavy. One square meter of water weighs close to a ton (2,000 pounds). Ice, of course, is simply water in its frozen state. When freezing rain falls and accumulates on every nook and cranny it can, it adds an enormous amount of weight to, well, outdoor things. Of particular concern are trees and power lines, which can be burdened with an extra 500 pounds of weight.

For power lines and trees to snap, usually a half inch of freezing rain is the cutoff. Once you’re getting over a half inch, that’s when significant hazards such as downed trees and power lines become a widespread and serious concern. You can still get that with, say, a quarter inch of freezing rain, but it’s far more isolated in nature at that point.

2) Driving stinks. Freezing rain – especially at or over a tenth of an inch – can turn even the busiest of interstates into skating rinks. Just think about it: would you rather drive on an ice rink or three inches of snow? Widespread car accidents are unfortunately usually a given in any even moderate ice event.

The worst part about driving on freezing rain is it’s also hard to spot. Similar to black ice, glazed roads don’t stick out nearly as much as, for example, snow-covered ones. Especially at night, even a trace of ice from freezing fog or drizzle can make driving extremely hazardous. Just on Monday night, multiple spinouts and accidents were reported in metro Denver as a result of light freezing drizzle in the Mile High City.

Many of our beloved southern viewers, particularly those in the Carolinas through Texas, are veterans of some of these wicked events. A rare northern mid-winter ice storm just last week left well over 100,000 without power in parts of Canada, including Montreal.

Stay safe out there,
Meteorologist Chris Bianchi


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