WEST MICHIGAN — Our first major winter storm is in progress, and we’re expecting some dangerous conditions to arrive as frozen precipitation begins this afternoon.
The National Weather Service has issues several warnings and advisories for our area today until early tomorrow morning. I don’t want you to get hung up over the wording of these, however. Just because your area is in an advisory versus a warning doesn’t mean you can ignore the impacts from this storm. All areas will encounter some sort of frozen precipitation, just some more than others (thus the warning.)
More colors as we check our FOX 17 Radar just after the 8 AM hour. The dividing lines between types of precipitation vary from city to city. Blueish-purple indicates all snow, as the more tradition color of purple lends itself to a sleet (ice pellets) mix. Pink colors indicate freezing rain.
So how does each type of precipitation form? As temps throughout the entire column of air from the surface all the way up to thousands of feet above remain below freezing, snow will be the precipitation that falls.
As we introduce warmer pockets of air in between the colder ones, this is when we’ll see differences in wintry precipitation. Sleet is formed as that snow meets the warmer air and it partially melts. When it reaches the air ABOVE the surface that’s below freezing, it refreezes into ice pellets known as sleet.
But the main concern today is about the freezing rain, and this diagram illustrates how it forms. Comparing to the sleet graphic, the column of warmer air is much larger. This allows the snow to completely melt back to rain. It falls to the surface, which is below freezing. It melts on contact, and that’s what causes the icy glaze on cars, plants, and roadway surfaces.
As Future Track indicates, that mix of sleet and freezing rain will continue its trek northward after 9 AM. Totals will still be light, but roads will become slick at this time.
By noon, the leading edge of the frozen precip moves through Grand Rapids and surrounding areas. It starts out as snow, but will quickly change to sleet and eventually freezing rain.
By the afternoon, this is where it becomes more dangerous. As many areas have received frozen precip for several hours at this point, it will begin to accumulate on the roads just in time for the commute home. This is why many law enforcement officials have advised all non essential travelers to stay off the roads if possible. I know that’s difficult, especially for those coming home from work, but caution is certainly needed even more so by this evening.
By the evening, it will continue to be icy as travel remains extremely dangerous. Future Track indicates that warmer air may switch some of the precipitation to all rain at times, but you should bet on most of the area still being very dangerous to travel at this time.
Precipitation rates lessen just before midnight, but will continue in lighter amounts throughout the early morning.
Ice is bad enough alone, but when you couple it with extremely strong winds, many other problems await. Winds already gusting over 40 mph will begin as precip continues to increase in intensity after noon.
Winds become even stronger by the evening. As ice accumulates onto trees and other surfaces, these winds will not only make it feel like it’s in the teens, but will cause damage to trees already weighed down by ice.
Bottom line: you should expect dangerous conditions to impact you later on this afternoon and evening. Roadways have the potential to become very slippery, and winds will add insult to injury with potential power outages,
So how much ice is expected to accumulate? As the bulk of the storm winds down, Future Track pegs us for nearly half an inch of ice, if not a little more in some areas! This may not seem very significant, but this “small” amount of ice causes many more problems than a foot of snow would! If you’ve got questions regarding this winter storm, don’t hesitate to contact me on Facebook or Twitter. For the latest updates and weather conditions, visit the FOX 17 Weather page.