Most areas in the US experience both freezing rain and hail. While the two may occur at different times, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between them. This article is here to give you all the information you need to be able to do that. 

Freezing rain and hail form through different processes, appear differently to the human eye and negatively impact the area they hit. 

For more information, please continue reading. 

Freezing Rain

Freezing rain is a weather condition where rain falls as a liquid, but when it touches the ground or other surfaces, it freezes into a thin layer of ice. It can be dangerous because it makes surfaces very slippery and difficult to walk or drive on. 

It can also cause tree branches and power lines to break, leading to power outages.


Hail is a type of precipitation that forms when strong updrafts in thunderstorm clouds carry raindrops high up into the atmosphere, where the air is frigid. The raindrops freeze into ice as they are lifted higher and higher and then fall back to the ground as hailstones. 

Hailstones can vary from very small to very large and can cause damage to buildings, crops, and vehicles. 

Differences Between Freezing Rain And Hail

Sometimes it can become challenging to differentiate between weather conditions and identify which one is which. Below we have discussed three significant differences between freezing rain and hail. 

The two have entirely different formation processes, appearance, and impact on the region they affect. 


The first major difference that can be drawn between freezing rain and hail is the way both of these form. Different phenomena are responsible for each. 

Freezing rain is different from regular rain but is formed the way regular rain is formed. Warm air rises into the atmosphere and creates clouds. The clouds gain moisture, and when the water vapors become too heavy for the cloud to contain, they fall as rainfall.

However, when this rain falls on the ground, it freezes and forms ice. This occurs because the temperature in the clouds is lower than the temperature on the ground’s surface. Upon contact, the warm rain immediately freezes, causing freezing rain. 

On the other hand, hail is formed differently. During thunderstorms, when heavy rain takes place, it is also accompanied by strong winds. There are updrafts of warm air that are so strong that they carry rain droplets into the clouds. In the clouds, the temperature is extremely low. The water droplets turn into ice. 

The clouds are unable to contain the ice due to their weight, and the ice falls back onto the ground in the form of hail. Sometimes, these hailstones can also be carried back into the clouds by updrafts and fall back down with more ice accumulating. This process is a very common occurrence during a hailstorm. 


The starkest difference that can be identified between freezing rain and hail is the way these look in appearance. 

Freezing rain appears as ordinary rain at first while it is still suspended in the air. It looks like water droplets falling toward the ground. However, upon contact with the ground, the state changes. The water droplets look like ice now. 

As the water falls and spreads evenly on the surface, a layer of ice is formed, which looks like a thin sheet. This is often known as a glaze and can be translucent and even opaque depending on how much freezing rain has fallen. 

In the case of hail, the appearance of hailstones is observed. Hailstones are small balls of ice that look like peas. However, they can vary in multiple sizes and do not fall in equal sizes every time. They are usually round in shape, white in color, and can look translucent or opaque. 

The surface of a hailstone can be smooth or rough, depending on how many layers of ice have formed around it. 

In some cases, hailstones can have a layered appearance, with clear and opaque bands visible when the hailstone is cut in half. Hailstones can also have a variety of colors, depending on the minerals present in the atmosphere where they form.


The effects of these two weather conditions are also very different in nature. 

Freezing rain becomes especially concerning due to the layer of ice it forms on roads and other surfaces that people use. The glaze makes these surfaces extremely slippery, causing accidents, slip-falls, and vehicle damage. 

Moreover, the freezing ice can form a layer on tree branches and power lines. This puts them at risk of breaking and falling under the weight of ice. As this fall, they cause further damage and disruption of services. 

Freezing rain also causes considerable crop damage. 

Hailstones are balls of ice that can damage any surface that they hit. When they fall at high speeds, they break windows and windshields and damage vehicles, roofs, and crops. The damage can be very detrimental and may cost a lot to repair. 

The longer the hailstorm continues, the further damage it causes to the region. 

What Is Sleet?

Sleet is another natural weather condition that is discussed alongside hail and freezing rain. Let us tell you how it is different. 

Sleet is precipitation that falls in the form of small ice pellets. This is formed from snowflakes which melt when they enter a pocket of warm air in the atmosphere, turn into water, and then enter a cold pocket of air and turn into ice. 

The appearance of hail and sleet may be very similar, but the processes through which they are formed are very different. Moreover, sleet occurs in winter temperatures, while hail occurs during the warmer seasons. 

Final Thoughts

Both freezing rain and hail are dangerous and can be fatal to people if they are out in the open. It is always advised to take shelter under a sturdy building and wait out the conditions. 

Moreover, keeping your vehicles parked in your garage and taking other necessary precautions when such a situation arises is best.