I have seen the enemy, and it is sleet.
I first heard it hit the bedroom windows at 6:05 a.m. on Tuesday morning. It was unmistakable, yet I couldn’t, or rather, refused to believe it. The metallic tapping of sleet hitting the windows was clear and growing louder with each wind gust, until the chaotic chorus of the wintry mix was impossible to ignore.
My wife, Olga, woke up, alarmed.
"Is that sleet?" she said, followed by "this is bullshit."
I married a smart woman.
You see, to a weather geek, sleet is the lowest form of precipitation. It stings you in the face when it hits you. It makes a noisy racket on windows and skylights. Yet it bounces off tree branches and accumulates in an icy, slushy mess on the ground, packing down any previously fallen snow.
Perhaps worst of all, most people mistake it for hail, forcing me to explain it like a jerk, saying, "It’s not hail, hail only occurs in blah blah blah."
The sleet early this morning meant that what was supposed to be several hours of rip-roaring blizzard conditions yielding a foot or more of snow was transformed into a heavy, annoying wintry mix fest, leaving millions asking why New York City all but shut down for this crap.
NYC thundersleet evidence on radar, with mix in bright bands and lightning strike circled here. pic.twitter.com/DFO1YxOBap
— Andrew Freedman (@afreedma) March 14, 2017
See, I understand where sleet comes from, I know where it lives. I just think it sucks.
Sleet literally robs the atmosphere of snow, since it forms when a layer of air with a temperature above freezing causes falling snow to melt into raindrops. The rain then falls through a relatively deep layer of cold air, giving it time to freeze into the ice pellets we know as sleet.
In the hierarchy of precipitation, it is below graupel, and if you know what graupel is, you’ll know how insulting that is.
To top off the insult of heavy sleet this morning, New York City then experienced a weather phenomena that left me so conflicted that I nearly had a panic attack: thundersleet.
On the one hand, this was awesome, because it was thundering in the winter due to the dynamics involved in a rapidly strengthening storm.
But it was sleeting, not snowing, which felt just wrong on a personal level.
To a snow lover like me, thundersleet is just a shade of what a true thundersnow event would be like.
I couldn’t help but think of what it would have been like if it were snowing instead. The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore would have been jumping for joy, no doubt.
But would he for thundersleet?
Maybe, but it wouldn’t be as joyous, and I don’t think he wouldn’t jump as high. His heart wouldn’t be in it. Because he too would be thinking about the snow that could have been.
The snow that should have been.
Sleet, to me, is the precipitation that robs people of snow that was previously advertised. In other words, it subtracts from other weather, rather than adding to it, and that’s another sign of a weather phenomena that you ought to be wary of.
If I were putting together a dream team to tackle a project, snow and freezing rain would be welcome. Sleet would be summarily rejected, because it would ping off the snow and mute it, or just tell it to go f*ck itself, and tell freezing rain it’s services are not needed anymore.
That’s just not good teamwork.
Simply put, sleet plays poorly with other forms of precipitation.
And frankly, it’s dead to me. This whole sleet storm meant nothing.
You hear that, thundersleet? You could’ve been somebody.
If only you were snow.