Why Are We Worried About ice?

It turns roads into skating rinks and weighs down tree limbs and powerlines… often until they snap.

If you’ve been following the forecast for the next few days you’ve probably heard/seen the mention of freezing rain. Of all the weather elements we get in the Northeast freezing rain is the most dangerous!

Freezing rain is unfrozen liquid water falling from the sky which freezes on contact. It turns roads into skating rinks and weighs down tree limbs and powerlines… often until they snap.

In case you’ve ever wondered here’s how it happens! To help you visualize it I’m going to use a little screengrab from a program called BUFKIT. BUFKIT is the Swiss Army Knife of weather! It’s a versatile tool which I use every day. It will be a lot easier to follow if you click on the screengrab to make it larger.

A few things about the BUFKIT screen.

  • The horizontal or ‘x’ axis shows the time and date. Like writing in Hebrew you read this right-to-left!.
  • The vertical or ‘y’ axis shows height. Going up from the bottom each line represents another thousand feet above the ground. This chart runs to about 12,000 feet.
  • The curved contour lines are isotherms or lines of equal temperature. They are contoured and labeled in degrees Celsius
  • One part of that contour has been filled with a hotter color. That’s because it’s warmer. In fact in this case the shaded area has temperatures above freezing with colder temps above and below it!

Here’s what’s expected to happen for parts of the next two days.

Snow will fall from the clouds, but on its way down it will pass through warmer air and melt becoming rain. That rain will continue to fall until it hits colder air. Tuesday afternoon and evening that cold air layer is only around 1,500 feet deep. That won’t provide enough time for the water to refreeze.

If the pocket of cold air was thicker we might see sleet. Most likely we’ll see the water stay liquid and only freeze when it gets to ground level and hits something!

There’s a lot not to look forward to over the next few days. Stay safe.

44 thoughts on “Why Are We Worried About ice?”

  1. Yeesh! I hate freezing rain! I remember my mother crying when we had an ice storm in 1972 or so because our huge maple tree was cracking and falling all over the place.

  2. Thanks Geoff…sharing this with my 5th grader….miss your expertise for sure!! Wishing it was wrong…but prepared for the worst….have gas in the grill….but it’s “raining” in my carport as the snow melts! Gas for the little generator….small electric heater…..
    We are VERY lucky that a major portion of the snow has melted off our roof….but a good portion is still on the carport side…and huge icicles hang off the side of our house. Trying to convince my husband to fill pantyhose with the ice melt, to put in the gutters…but he is resisting…..
    Stay safe!!!

  3. This is very interesting, Geoff. Will the next couple of days all be considered one weather event, or will it become a “new” event when it changes to ice, or at some other point?

  4. Thank you for the explanation, you are the only one that has given one! This is what I miss the most, don’t just tell me the weather, tell me why it is happening. I lived through a terrible ice storm back in the early seventies. I was up in Scotland, CT. It was pretty, but not nice. Seven days no power just before Christmas.

  5. Back in 1962 (I believe memory serves me right as far as the year) I headed out to school. It was raining outside, but did not appear to be anything spetacular. Stepping out the door I immediately slipped on clear ice and landed on my butt. This severly injured my male pride as the young ladies waiting for me had a good laugh at my expense. Anyway after a long wait for the school bus and seeing absolutely no vehicular traffic on the roads we all slid home. I remember the weaterman at the time refering to the rain falling and freezing on contact as “Glaze”. I never forgot the term and wonder why it is no longer used?

    1. Same thing happened to me in the 80’s. Slid down the cement front steps. On my left ankle. It hurt so bad I thought I’d broken it, but there was no swelling and the pain was gone in a couple hours. That was 25 years ago or so. This summer when I had a severe sprain (baseball sized swelling) I went to a doctor. He said my ankle was not broken, but the X-ray showed bone fragments from a previous break. Could it be from that slide down the steps long ago?

  6. This image must be valid for some particular geographic location, correct? Just curious what location (on the ground) this would represent? I’m assuming this is taken from a 3D model that shows the temperature/altitude over a region at a given time.

    Very cool. (I guess in this case, not quite cool enough.)

  7. Well, I think the groundhog will see his shadow tomorrow. Thanks (as usual!) for the non-patronizing explanation.

    BTW, OU school of meteorology has a professor opening……I am from OK and it’s not so bad down there. Many more “angry liberals” than you would expect.

  8. Thanks, Geoff, for staying in touch with us and giving your usual understandable explanations. I remember the ice storm in the 70’s when we lost power for 5 days. At first, it was like living in a magical place that first morning when the sun shined on all the ice. Then, reality set in and the next 5 days were very difficult trying to keep pipes from freezing, losing all the food from the freezer, trying to keep the kids happy. Let’s hope this is not a repeat of that not-so-fond memory!

  9. I let my fingers do the searching, and BUFKIT is available gratis; but it appears to be a Windows only application (the horror). In addition, there appears to be lots o data one can gather from NWS, too. Remember your Gilbert chemistry set? This is kind of like that, well, except you won’t be able to blow up the garage. But you might be able to do the full monty weather forecasting.

  10. I remember the ice storm we had two winters ago. That one took down a monster of a limb off an oak in my backyard, missing my deck by about nine inches. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again…

  11. I got the flat roof of the sunroom done yesterday, but they left the snow on the main house because they had another apointment!:(

    My house was built in 1951 and has a hip roof. With a pre-existing 8″ snow pack on top, should I be worried about all this ice and snow?

    I can see why the Victorians used slate and really steeply pitched roofs! I would feel safer in my parents’ house built in 1897 than my little ranch!

    Oh, Geoff, these storms are not the same without you!!

  12. Now this is EXACTLY what we miss about not being able to tune into you! Thank goodness for My Permanent Record, where we can still obtain interesting bits of information about the weather. Thank you, Geoff, and keep ’em coming!

  13. So freezing rain is rain that freezes when it hits a surface. Sleet is already frozen when it hits because it has passed through a layer of cold air. (Sleet makes those clickety sounds.) Both freezing rain and sleet can cause an icy, slippery glaze to walk or drive on. Am I correct? (I certainly should be after watching you for two decades.)

    Which is more dangerous?

    BTW yes, I remember that ice storm in 1973. I was 17 years old, sorta like the Christina Ricci in the movie. Except our parents did not go to “swinger” parties and exchange car keys. To my knowledge.

  14. Geoff-
    Don’t know if I missed something…when did they start naming winter storms? I am not THAT old, but seems I don’t remember.

    1. Now that I no longer watch Channel 8 (for obvious reason) it’s something Channel 3 does. They had a blurb on it last week about how long they’d been doing it and the criteria necessary to naming storms. (BTW, I’m assuming they had the blurb only because so many of us are switching stations.)

      1. Cherie… WFSB began naming storms in 1971, when, as WTIC, it co-opped with an entity known as Travelers’ Weather Service. The on-air presenter was Hilton Kaderli, who had no real Wx tools at his disposal… he just read what Travelers’ gave him. Kind of what the AM entertainer on Channel 3 does now… along with utilizing his “personal orientation” to get away with comments to female talent that “regular” males (see Terzi, Al) allegedly could not… BTW, Kaderli has been in commercials for “Gutter Guards”…. too bad they cannot guard us from ice dams…

        1. Hi Phil –

          You’re right and wrong. I believe Hilton did have an meteorological education and also received the AMS Broadcast Seal. As for Scot, he is absolutely a meteorologist from SUNY Stony Brook.

          Being funny, folksy, flamboyant or even beautiful doesn’t take away from your intelligence or education. They are not mutually exclusive.

          1. Hi, Geoff: Thanks for the enlightenment about Scot’s qualifications. Given what I’ve seen of Scot on TV and in person, he’d have been one of the last persons I would have thought of as having had a meteorology degree.

            I remember your dicussion in your bio about having attained the AMS broadcast seal. Is it possible to achieve the seal WITHOUT having a weather sciences degree?

            Back in my Air Force days, I asked a military meteorologist about the curriculum required in weather forecasting. When he said he had to take FOUR calculus courses, that stopped me in my tracks (I had nothing higher than trigonometry in high school). I remained in logistics (shipping/receiving/inventory) for my entire career…

  15. Freezing rain is absolutely the most dangerous, but also one of the most beautiful. There’s not much more stunning in nature than seeing tree branches covered in ice in brilliant sunshine. It doesn’t last long, but it is glorious while it’s there.

  16. February 1. 2011

    Dear Geoff,
    This is what we miss. I loved how you explain what freezing rain is.
    But I can tell you I had enough of winter. I am a winter baby and everytime we had a party plan had to cancel just like today. My birthday is today and can’t do nothing. Thank you for keeping in contact with us and hope you still do. I am sure a new door will open for you. You are a good weather forcaster and you know your stuff. Keep warm and safe.
    You and your family is in my prayers.


    1. Sheena, HAPPY BIRTHDAY…! I hope you had a great day despite the awful weather that is happening in CT. I’m a winter baby also (Feb. 25th) and know how it feels to get “snowed on” when our birthday’s come along with a winter storm. Think of it this way…It’s God letting us know that our day is filled with pure wonderment of snow castles and crystal-ice gems. Cheers, Tricia-Ann

      1. February 6, 2011

        Dear Tricia-Ann
        Thank you for wishing me a happy birthday. I was truly amazed someone that didn’t know me wished me a Happy Birthday. I do miss Geoff Fox truly. I wish Wtnh 8 thought twice before they told him he couldn’t come back to finish
        and tell everyone he wanted to say that he was leaving. Geoff been with me for about 23 years of my life letting me know how the weather was. I trusted him. I miss you Geoff Fox. I wish you and your family all the best. Please don’t leave facebook and keep us up to date how the job hunting goes. Again Traci-Ann thnak. Today is February 5, 2011 and we are celbrating our 12 year anniversary. February is an awesome month for my husband and I.

  17. Learning in school was never as interesting as learning from you! You are a natural teacher! Thank you, I really look forward to these “sessions”.

  18. Hi Geoff,I would change stations too if I got any other ones.Free t.v. sucks!You were the only one I counted on to tell it like it is.I like Dr.Mel,he`s o.k.I wish you all the luck in the world.Hey, is fox 5 looking for anyone?Then they could say Fox is on Fox.

  19. Great explanation Geoff! I really think “we” need to keep doing these updates? Can you keep us in touch with CT weather no matter where you land (which, by the way, I’m wondering if CT is still a consideration after all this weather!) 🙂

  20. Thanks for your continued expertise and education this winter. It must be very difficult for you to be off the air during this record-breaking winter, but many of us will continue to follow you on Twitter. Could serve as excellent references for you i’n the future!

  21. This is exactly what I miss! Your clear and insightful explanation of what is happening behind the forecast. I miss you. Seriously, if you move to a snow free area you would be bored. 🙂

    How about a when to shovel/plow prediction based on the forecast. That would really help with the executive decision of when to clear. Before the freezing rain? Or after so that the snow is a buffer under the ice. Last one I waited and had to run 4 inches of slush through the poor snow blower. I don’t know what I am going to do this time. Sigh.

  22. Just took a pole saw, a hoe and some duct tape and made a new invention to get some snow off the flat parts of the roof. Take THAT, roof rakes.

  23. Now this is why we miss you Geoff. Thank you for teaching us a bit of something new (or something we forgot that you taught us last year) every day! We sure hope you land somewhere in Connecticut.

  24. This is what I miss from the weather reports. You would always say, “Now, lemme show you what’s happening!” and up would pop up some map that you would use in an explanation of what was going on.

    But I still have a lot of questions about this storm in particular. Why is it so big and why is it carrying pockets of warm air with it? And it seems to be mostly passing to the north of us in Southeastern CT — is that why we are getting so little while others (like Chicago) are getting wholluped? Finally, is this an unusual type of storm? They usually form down south and come up the coast.

    Sorry for all the questions. For a very short time as a younster, I wanted to be a meteorologist!

    Laurie G.

  25. That’s the Geoff I love! This is what I miss the most: How you take these concepts and simplify them for your viewers to understand. In that line of thought, would you please not mind dedicating a blog here to discuss the possible reasons why this winter has been so brutal on the northeast?
    You are the best!

  26. It’s now Tuesday morning and here in Southeastern Connecticut, the rain has been falling steadily for several hours.

    BIG QUESTION: How do I clean up this mess on my sloped driveway before the temperature drops below freezing again?

    Hope there are some answers other than move to Hawaii.

  27. Geoff, I must add my thoughts in support of you that have been expressed for a few weeks now, regarding your peremptory “dis-employment” at Channel 8. I too have transferred my viewing of weather reporting to another local channel. I have a thought, though, prompted by the BUFKIT screen data and your analysis: Have YOU given thought to creating an ongoing weather report via this or a weather-dedicated blogsite, presumably supported by advertisements, as a profit venture? (Assuming that the opportunity does not arise for a new TV employment.) I sincerely miss your analysis of Connecticut weather . . . and would miss your weather reporting if you move out of state!

  28. Miss you on WTNH, Dad and I really enjoyed watching you give the weather forecast and lively banter. I don’t like what management did to you and I certainly don’t like the new “kids”. You were like family.

  29. Geoff… Wish I could get rid of these ice dams in my gutters! They’re causing water to seep into my living room windows through the shoody casing the new windows were installed with. Won’t these dams cause damage to roof shingles and, ultimately, the undersides of rooftops (and the attic insulation)?

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