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Does Rain Melt Snow? (Explained)

hands in knitted mittens with a heart made of snow on a winter day

 

Near the end of winter, you might start to see rain showers instead of snow showers.

This might make you wonder if the rain will finally melt the snow.

Considering that rain and snow are two sides of the same coin, it’s understandable if you’re unsure.

Here’s what you need to know about whether or not rain melts snow.

 

Does Rain Melt Snow?

melted cute snowman in puddle

 

Yes, rain does sometimes melt snow.

It depends on the temperature of the air at that moment.

For example, if the temperature remains above freezing, that is above 32 degrees Fahrenheit, then the rain will melt the snow.

If the temperature is below freezing, that is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, then it will not melt the snow.

Instead, the rain will create a layer of ice on top of the snow.

If temperatures are above freezing, then the rain will melt the snow because the water droplets will be warmer than the snowflakes.

When the snow gets exposed to warm temperatures, it melts and turns from a solid state into a liquid state.

Additionally, if the temperature is warm but gets colder, then the snow might melt at first, but then refreeze into ice.

That’s why getting a rainstorm during winter can sometimes be dangerous.

It can make everything slick with ice.

Rain can melt snow but only when the temperature is above freezing.

 

How Does Rain Melt Snow?

snow and rain outside the window

 

Rain melts snow in a few ways.

The first is that it brings a warmer temperature to the snow.

If the air is warm, then the rain is also going to be warmer.

That’s why rain during the summer feels warm versus rain during the winter that feels cold.

Since it’s warm, it melts the snow by disrupting the ice crystals.

They lose their conformation and turn into water.

Another way that rain melts snow is that it gets into air pockets.

This is especially common in plowed snow.

When plows push snow to the curbs, you’re usually left with big mounds of snow along the road.

It can take some time for these piles to fully melt.

Rain can speed up the process because the plowed snow has a few air pockets left in it from the plowing.

Rain gets into these pockets and brings warm temperatures to the bottom layer of the pile.

It’s important to remember that snow melts in layers.

The top layer melts first, and then it works its way down.

When rain gets into the air pockets, it helps the lower layers melt, too, which speeds up the melting process.

Rain melts snow by bringing warm temperatures to the top layer of snow and by getting into the air pockets within the lower layers of snow.

 

What Determines How Fast Snow Melts?

melting snow

 

If you have snow in your yard and you’re looking forward to it melting, you may wonder how long it’s going to be until it melts.

There are a few factors related to the weather that can determine how fast snow melts, such as:

 

1. Wind

People walk along the building through a blizzard with heavy snowfall

 

The wind can speed up the process of melting snow.

When the temperatures are warm, strong winds can blow into the snow and cause it to become warmer.

As a result, the snow melts at a faster rate.

However, if the temperatures are still cold, then the wind will only aid the snow in becoming more solid.

That’s because the cold temperatures will essentially help solidify the ice crystals.

If it’s warm outside and it’s a windy day, then you’ll notice that the snow will melt faster.

 

2. Rain

umbrella when it snows

 

Rain also speeds up the process of melting snow.

When the water is warm, it disrupts the bonds of ice crystals and makes them change their conformation.

They melt into a liquid state.

Rain also can fall into air pockets that melt deeper layers of snow which speeds up the process.

As the snow melts, more air pockets emerge, and the rain begins to melt the snow faster and faster.

Warm rain is a major factor that speeds up the time it takes for the snow to melt.

 

3. Humidity

Humidity word written on wet window. High level of dampness in apartment.

 

As temperatures start to warm, one of the first signs of spring and summer is high humidity levels.

Humidity is a measure of the amount of moisture in the air.

It does the same thing that rain does except it isn’t rain.

Humidity brings warm moisture to the environment which melts snow because the water vapor in the atmosphere gets into the air pockets and melts the snow even further.

Humidity also does a better job of melting snow than rain does because it doesn’t only fall from the sky down to the ground.

It’s everywhere.

Rain only comes from one direction.

Humidity can surround snow and start to melt it from every angle.

You can expect a lot of snow to melt when it’s a warm, humid day.

 

4. Sun Intensity

Winter park in snow in sunny day

 

Another factor that influences how fast snow melts is the sun’s intensity.

Winter occurs because the Earth’s orbit draws a certain section of the world away from the sun.

Its rays aren’t as intense during the winter season.

That’s also why one part of the world experiences winter while another part of the world experiences summer at the same time.

As Earth draws back to the sun, the intensity of the sun’s rays increases.

It essentially makes the atmosphere warmer since we’re closer to the sun.

When the sun’s intensity is high, the temperature is going to be warmer.

Warmer temperatures cause snow to melt at an accelerated rate.

Snow melts faster when the sun’s intensity is higher.

 

5. Sun Contact

Purple crocus poking through the snow in a mountain field

 

It isn’t only the sun’s intensity that matters.

For snow to melt fast, it also needs plenty of exposure to the sun.

That’s why you’ll notice that some piles of snow melt slower than others.

Snow piles that are in shaded areas will take longer to melt than those that are in the open.

That’s because those that are in the open have direct exposure to the sun.

The sun’s rays are able to touch them directly and start to melt them.

It’s not unlike feeling warmer while standing in the sun versus feeling cooler when standing in the shade.

Since snow relies on a certain temperature to remain in its solid form, the sun’s rays increase the temperature and melt the snow.

Snow melts faster when it has direct contact with the sun’s rays.

 

6. Snow Layers

Roof with snow

 

The number of layers that the snow pile has also determines how fast it melts.

Because snow melts from top to bottom, if it has a lot of layers, then it’s going to take a long time to melt.

You can compare a large snow drift to a small amount of snow in your backyard.

The snow drift is going to take several more days, if not weeks, to melt since it has more layers.

Each layer must completely melt before the next layer starts.

This process can halt if temperatures ever drop below freezing, too.

The part of the snow that melted might turn to ice and make the snow drift even more solid.

As such, when temperatures rise again, the snow must work through that extra layer of ice that the cold temperatures caused.

Since a snow drift takes longer to melt, it means there are more chances of this happening.

The snow in your backyard may only have two, three, or four layers to get through and will melt a lot faster than a large pile.

Snow melts faster when it doesn’t have many layers to melt.

 

7. Ground Temperature

snowdrifts on outdoor soccer field in spring

 

A final factor that influences how fast the snow melts is ground temperature.

For snow to collect on the ground, the ground temperature needs to be 0 degrees Celsius.

During winter, the ground slowly drops to 0 degrees as the snow melts.

That’s because the cold water gets into the soil and freezes it.

That’s also why the ground temperature is important for the melting of snow, too.

Once the ground temperature becomes warm, the snow can no longer stay on its surface.

It starts to melt.

As a result, you have both the bottom layer and the top layer undergoing a melting process.

That speeds the entire process up considerably.

Ground temperatures become warmer because of a few different factors.

The first is the sun.

As the sun’s intensity becomes stronger, it starts to bake the earth.

The soil becomes warmer.

The second is the melting of the snow.

As the snow melts, it brings warm water into the soil.

That further increases the ground temperature, and it heats the snow from the bottom.

Finally, the temperature of the air slowly increases the ground temperature, too.

All these factors make the soil warmer which means it melts snow faster.

 

Can It Rain And Snow At The Same Time?

black umbrella covered by rain drops and snow

 

When temperatures start to warm, you might notice that there’s both rain and snow in the forecast.

It might make you wonder if it can snow and rain at the same time.

Yes, it can rain and snow at the same time.

It all has to do with how the temperatures vary in a given amount of time.

For example, if the temperature only rises a few degrees above freezing, then it might rain for a short while.

However, as the day progresses and the temperature continues to drop, the rain can turn into snow.

In most cases, right around the freezing point, you’ll get a mix of rain and snow called sleet.

Sleet is a thick type of rain that collects like snow.

It can be especially dangerous if the sleet freezes over because it forms smooth blankets of ice.

If the temperatures hover back and forth at the freezing point, then you can expect rain, snow, and even sleet to fall from the sky.

 

Does Rain Melt Snow Faster Than Other Elements?

On the sides of the stream is melting snow

 

Rain can melt snow faster than other elements.

In particular, there needs to be the right ambient temperature outside.

If it’s warm, then the rain will make the snow melt faster.

That’s because it makes the rain warm which melts the snow at a faster rate.

If the temperature is cold, then it won’t help the rain melt the snow faster.

That’s because the rain will have a colder temperature which might cause the snow to freeze more.

If anything, it may reinforce the snow and make it harder.

That can slow the process of melting since the sun and other factors will have to melt through that hardened layer.

Rain can melt snow faster than other elements as long as the temperature outside is above freezing.

 

Can Rain Freeze Snow?

Freezing rain

 

While rain can melt snow, it can also make it freeze.

This occurs when the temperatures drop either during or after it has rained.

While it’s raining, the water droplets become colder.

When they hit the surface, they’re spreading cold water across it.

If that surface is snow, then the cold water makes it freeze harder.

If it’s another surface, then the cold water puts a layer of chilly water on it.

As temperatures drop further, that layer of water can freeze.

Rain can also freeze snow after it’s dropped.

For example, if the rain passes and the temperatures drop, then any lingering puddles or water droplets will freeze, too.

This can create a frozen layer on top of the snow.

You may even notice it when you try to walk through the snow.

It may have a slippery surface or you might hear a bit of a crunch when you step through it.

Rain can melt snow, but it can also freeze it under the right conditions.

 

Does Rain Melt Salt?

Handful of rich salt

 

To combat some of the slipperiness of snow, you may decide to put down road salt.

In the right temperatures, road salt is an effective way to melt snow and ice.

However, if there’s a chance of rain, then you may wonder if it makes sense to put the salt down on your driveway.

Rain does melt salt, but it does so at a very slow rate.

The main concern you should have with rain is its ability to wash the salt away.

If you have a flat driveway, then there’s less risk of this.

However, even with flat driveways, the movement of water will eventually wash the salt down to the street and down a drain.

Those who have an inclined driveway are more at risk of having the salt on their driveways washed away.

If the salt washes away, there’s no chance it can melt through the snow on your driveway.

When it comes to flat areas, however, there is some chance that the rain will slowly melt the salt.

Because road salt is more concentrated, it takes more time for water to penetrate its crystals and melt them.

As such, if you’re planning to put salt on your driveway with rain in the forecast, it’s a better idea to salt your driveway after the rain has passed.

This will ensure that the salt melts the snow without interruption.

 

Should You Spread Salt Before Or After Freezing Rain?

Man spreading de-icing salt on a path

 

When the temperatures are low and there’s a threat of freezing rain, you may wonder if you should spread road salt before or after the freezing rain returns.

The best time to spread salt is before freezing rain.

That’s because the temperature is going to hover around the freezing point.

It’s more likely that the rain is going to freeze in place rather than wash the salt away.

The salt will also do a great job of keeping the rain from fully freezing once it’s on the surface.

This helps ensure that the driveway remains clear of ice, if not clear of snow entirely.

If there’s freezing rain in the forecast, then you should salt your driveway right before it falls.

 

Conclusion

Rain does melt snow when the temperature outside is above freezing.

If the temperature is below freezing, then it will freeze the snow which will make melting it take longer.

Rain can also slowly melt road salt, but it mostly just washes it away and down a drain.


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