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I'm from Australia where we don't have so many kinds of precipitation. I'm familiar with these:

  • rain
  • hail
  • snow
  • sleet

As I understand it, sleet refers to frozen rain but I'm not totally familiar with it. Right now I'm not in Australia but Georgia, the former Soviet republic. And at the moment it's raining but not just rain. There's also some mushy snowflakes falling. I've never seen this before and wonder if we even have a word for it in English. Would it be referred to as sleet after all? It's 2 degrees above zero centigrade now so frozen rain seems unlikely.

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Sleet is the correct answer. See the OED entry I posted below. –  tchrist Feb 18 '12 at 15:57
Well it seems there are two senses of sleet: 1) rain freezing on the way down and 2) snow melting on the way down. –  hippietrail Feb 18 '12 at 16:48
Really? Isn’t the end-state the same, a mix of rain and snow? I doubt I’m ever aware of the state-change history of the frigid squishy stuff that goes pitter-splat in my face. Seems to be putting a rather fine point on it. I don’t think any other anglophonic place has more than your four original words, although now and then you hear of ice pellets. Plus there’s the ice-fog or ice-mist that brings on hoare frost, but I don’t normally think of that as precipitation, even though of course it really is. Down that road lie fancy words like brume and spume. –  tchrist Feb 18 '12 at 16:53
@tchrist I think the end result wouldn't be the same. If some rain were freezing on the way down it would be a mixture of rain and hail. Then again I'm not sure I could spot a difference between melting snow and melting hail of such a fine size. I'm happy with the answers that say i's "snow melting on the way down" and sources including Wikipedia do say that is only one of the senses of sleet so I accept that. Plus other interesting terms like wintry mix were offered that I've never heard before in my native Anglophone country. –  hippietrail Feb 18 '12 at 17:03
@tchrist: Living in the Northeast of the U.S., and having experienced all of these, I can say that it is quite easy to tell the difference between ice pellets (aka sleet), snow, rain, and hail. The only ones that might be confused are ice pellets and small hailstones. However, hail nearly always occurs during thunderstorms (generally in the summer around here), and the smallest hailstones I've seen were quite a bit bigger than ice pellets ever are. –  Peter Shor Feb 22 '12 at 21:23
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6 Answers 6

up vote 20 down vote accepted

Sorry, I believe the answer is "sleet":

Rain and snow mixed (also known as sleet) is precipitation composed of rain and partially melted snow. This precipitation can occur where the temperature in the lower part of the atmosphere is slightly above the freezing point (0 °C or 32 °F). Its METAR code is RASN.

Meteorologists around my geographical area (New England) refer to it as a "wintry mix" most of the time. But it's clear that "sleet" is what is meant here.

From the Wikipedia entry for rain and snow mixed.

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+1 for "wintry mix." –  Sonic42 Feb 18 '12 at 16:38
"Wintry mix" looks to be a pretty new addition to the language. First appearance in ngram viewer is 1998. It doesn't really catch on til 2005: books.google.com/ngrams/… –  Wayfaring Stranger Feb 18 '12 at 17:27
"wintry mix" in the Mid-Atlantic region (Maryland, New York, and Washington DC radio announcers come to mind) as well –  sq33G Feb 19 '12 at 8:41
Ugh..."wintry mix." I consider that expression another example of American vulgarism. This is why I don't watch TV. I remember reading about S.T. Coleridge's revulsion to learn of the popularity of the neologism "talented" in his day. He would not be disgusted by the current state of our language, but perhaps truly terrified. –  Gavin Emich Feb 21 '12 at 22:54
@Gavin: You can't stop change, especially in language. Despite his deliberate anachronisms, hearkening back to an earlier age, his ancestors would no doubt have considered his use of language to be too "modern" for their taste. –  Robusto Feb 21 '12 at 23:27
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I would say Snain, simply because Raiow sounds ridiculous.

We have an odd occurrence out here where the snow will be 10 to 20 feet above ground before it finally becomes rain, and stays as water puddles after hitting the ground.

I can’t call this sleet since our terminology of sleet refers to freezing rain or wet snow that becomes ice patches on roads (which is much more dangerous), and we can’t call it snow because out here snow means igloos and snowball fights.

So snain it is then; it will catch on.

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Let me be the first to say "Not convinced" :) –  Andrew Sep 22 '12 at 5:43
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  1. Snow Pellets (GS)- A snow pellet is precipitation that grows by supercooled water accreting on ice crystals or snow flakes. Snow pellets can also occur when a snowflake melts about half way then refreezes as it falls. Snow pellets have characteristics of hail, sleet and snow. With sleet (ice pellets), the snowflake almost completely melts before refreezing thus sleet has a hard ice appearance. Soft hail grows in the same way snow pellets can grow and that is ice crystals and supercooled water accreting on the surface. Snow pellets will crush and break apart when pressed. They can bounce off objects like sleet does. Snow pellets have a whiter appearance than sleet. Snow pellets have small air pockets embedded within their structure and have visual remnants of ice crystals unlike sleet. Snow pellets are typically a couple to several millimeters in size.
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It's not sleet — that's tiny ice pellets which generally fall in winter. Hail is also ice pellets, but they are produced by a different meteorological process, and can occur any time of year.

If there's a word for snow and rain at the same time, it's so obscure that the weathermen around here (Boston) don't know it. This often happens when it starts raining, and then becomes cold enough to snow, or vice versa. The weather reports usually call this "rain changing to snow", "snow changing to rain", "a mix of snow and rain", or "a wintry mix".

UPDATE: While it seems that nowadays, some people use sleet for a mixture of snow and rain, this is the original meaning of sleet. From the Encyclopaedia Perthensis, Edinburgh, 1816:

SLEET. n. s. [perhaps from the Danish, slet.] A kind of smooth small hail or snow, not falling in flakes, but single particles.

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Google "define sleet" Rain containing some ice, as when snow melts as it falls. Unless what OP is talking about is something we don't get in the UK, I think sleet is in fact the word. It's certainly the one Brits use for what we get. –  FumbleFingers Feb 18 '12 at 13:26
@FumbleFingers: Interesting. I don't believe that's what sleet means in the U.S. Merriam-Webster defines sleet as frozen or partly frozen rain, and my impression was that sleet needed to have some ice in the mix, and not just rain and snow falling at the same time. –  Peter Shor Feb 18 '12 at 13:35
It's mostly rain but you can see some particles are falling more slowly and if you stand in it they look like mushy snowflakes when they land on you before they melt. –  hippietrail Feb 18 '12 at 13:47
@PeterShor I’m a Wisconsin native living in Colorado — two decidedly snowier-than-average states — and I would certainly call it sleet. The OED’s sense 1a for its entry on sleet seems to agree with me: “Snow which has been partially thawed by falling through an atmosphere of a temperature a little above freezing-point, usually accompanied by rain or snow.” –  tchrist Feb 18 '12 at 15:53
I worked in aviation for 20 years. Sleet is ice pellets ... NOT a mixture. It is often mixed with rain, but the mixture itself is not sleet. –  AnWulf Feb 19 '12 at 13:32
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If you are from Australia then "snairing" would make sense.

Example It is snairing right now. (snairing = snow and raining)"

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Are portmanteaux popular in Australia? I am just curious about why "snairing" would make sense to an Australian. I'm not even sure if that IS exactly a portmanteau, though, since the letters are re-ordered. I suppose I have a question to ask in a new post! –  Gavin Emich Feb 21 '12 at 22:49
@GavinEmich : Guess what, I mentioned it to few people, if it is snowing and raining then would calling it snairing would make sense? they seemed ok with it –  Arjang Feb 22 '12 at 9:59
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According to Weather.com's glossary of meteorological terms, sleet is:

Also known as ice pellets, it is winter precipitation in the form of small bits or pellets of ice that rebound after striking the ground or any other hard surface.

It's not a single word, but the term I have seen used for mushy snowflakes on Accuweather.com and other weather forecast sites is often rain with snow flurries, defined as:

Light showers of snow, generally very brief without any measurable accumulation

A heavier version of snow flurries is snow showers (which is considered to be different from snow fall):

Frozen precipitation in the form of snow, characterized by its sudden beginning and ending

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protected by RegDwigнt Sep 21 '12 at 22:47

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