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In many parts of the world, rain and snow are both seen as significant weather events. But what happens when it rains while there is already snow on the ground? Does the rain melt the snow, or does it just make for slushy conditions?
Rain can melt snow if it falls onto snow at a temperature above 0°C (32°F). When the rain penetrates the air spaces in the snow, it can heat that air and cause the snow to melt. In addition, if there’s a strong enough wind to disperse the heat from the raindrop, it can melt the snow.
This post will explore why rain can melt snow in detail. I’ll also provide a few tips for preventing snow buildup on your property and staying safe in a snow melt. Read on for more information.
Why Does Snow Melt When It Rains?
As I mentioned, rain can melt snow. But why is this the case? Here are a few factors that cause this thawing to occur:
The Rains’ Heat Penetrates Air Spaces in the Snow
The main reason for rain melting snow is the heat from the raindrops themselves. When a raindrop falls onto a snowflake, it can penetrate the air spaces within the snow and heat up that air. This can cause the surrounding snow to melt.
To put things into perspective, the temperature of rain is typically around 0°C – 27°C (32°F – 80.6°F). So, if the snow on the ground is at or below 0°C, the rain can melt it.
Wind Disperses Heat From the Raindrop
In addition to the heat from the raindrops themselves, wind can also play a role in melting snow. As rain falls, a strong wind can disperse the heat from the raindrop, causing it to melt the surrounding snow.
To understand that better, consider this example: if you pour hot water onto a snowbank, it will melt in the area directly surrounding where the water is poured. But if you pour the same hot water onto a snowbank with a strong wind blowing, the melting will likely be more widespread.
Weather Conditions That Could Melt Snow
Certain weather conditions can contribute to the rain melting snow. Here are a few examples:
Warm Front Passing Through
A warm front is a transition zone where a warm air mass replaces a cold air mass. The scientific principle behind this phenomenon is that warm air can hold more moisture, so as the warm front moves through, it brings precipitation.
If the temperature during a warm front is above 0°C (32°F), there is potential for rain to melt snow on the ground.
Ambient Temperatures Above Freezing
Ambient temperature is the temperature of the surrounding air. If the ambient temperature is above 0°C (32°F) for a long enough period, the snow may melt due to the warmth of the air alone, even without precipitation.
Like the rain, the warmer air will penetrate the air spaces within the snow and heat them up, causing melting to occur.
Intense Solar Radiation Melts Snow Quickly
Solar radiation, or sunlight, can also contribute to melting snow. The sun’s rays can heat up the snow and cause it to melt, especially on bright, sunny days.
That’s a no-brainer in warmer climates, but even in colder areas, intense solar radiation can cause melting.
Tips for Preventing Snow Buildup on Your Property
Although snow can make for a picturesque winter wonderland, it can also be a nuisance. In fact, the Federal Highway Administration reports that snowy or icy pavements cause over 24% of weather-related car crashes. Snow isn’t only a nuisance on the highway; at home, it can also cause slips and falls, damage to roofs and gutters, and other issues.
Because of that, it’s essential to keep your property clear of snow buildup. Here are a few tips for preventing and managing snow on your property:
Clear the Snow Regularly
One of the best ways to prevent excessive snow buildup is to clear it regularly, as soon as possible after a snowfall. This can help prevent the snow from compacting and becoming harder to remove.
Clearing the snow early can also prevent ice buildup since melting and refreezing can lead to a dangerous layer of ice on walkways and driveways.
Be sure to wear protective gear and suitable boots for snowy weather to maximize your safety while clearing the snow. Check out my complete guide recommending the best boots for different extreme weather conditions. [Best Extreme Cold Weather Boots]
Use De-Icing Materials
De-icing materials like rock salt or calcium chloride can help melt snow and ice on paved surfaces. These materials work based on a fascinating scientific principle: they lower the freezing point of water, preventing ice from forming while melting existing ice.
When you add impurities to a frozen substance, you weaken the crystalline structure of the frozen water molecules. This allows them to melt at a lower temperature, making de-icing materials an effective tool for melting snow and ice.
Note: It’s crucial to use de-icing materials with caution. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, these substances contain chemicals that can harm plants and animals, so it’s essential to use them only on the intended surface and clear them away promptly after the snow has melted.
Invest in a Roof Rake
The weight of accumulated snow on your roof can be dangerous, potentially causing the roof to collapse under the strain. A roof rake can help prevent that by allowing you to remove excess snow from your roof before it becomes too heavy.
For starters, I recommend this EVERSPROUT Never-Scratch SnowBuster from Amazon.com. It’s extendable for 2 to 9 meters (7 to 30 feet) of reach, and it has a soft foam bumper to prevent scratching delicate surfaces.
How To Stay Safe in a Snow Melt
Although melting snow can lead to beautiful spring days, it can also pose some dangers. Here are a few tips for staying safe during a snow melt:
- Monitor weather forecasts and be aware of any potential flooding in your area.
- Keep gutters and drains clear to prevent flooding and pooling water on your property.
- Use de-icing materials, such as salt or calcium chloride, on walkways to prevent slippery conditions during a snow melt.
- Be cautious around melting snow and ice, as the resulting water can be dangerously cold.
- Avoid walking or playing near bodies of melting snow or ice.
- Take caution when driving, as melting snow can lead to slick road conditions and potential flooding. Be sure to drive at a safe speed and leave extra room between your vehicle and others on the road.
- If you encounter a heavily flooded road, do not attempt to drive through it. Turn around and find an alternate route. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
The Bottom Line
Rain does melt snow, but weather conditions and other factors can play a role in snow melting. If the ambient temperature is above freezing and the rain falls, the snow will likely melt. However, if the temperature is below freezing and the rain freezes in contact with the snow, it could cause ice buildup.
That said, keeping your property clear of excessive snow accumulation can prevent issues such as roof collapse or slippery walkways. And during a snow melt, it’s essential to stay safe by monitoring weather forecasts and being cautious around melting snow and ice.