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What to know about ice storms: causes, effects and safety



In many places it is a normal part of life to deal with winter weather such as snow, sleet and ice. However, there is a less common type of winter storm that can cause significant damage no matter where you live: ice storms. outdoors – from roads and walkways to trees and power lines.

To help you prepare for the next time an ice storm is forecast, here's all you need to know about this winter weather event.

What is an ice.

According to The National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL), an ice storm is caused by freezing rain that results in the accumulation of at least 0.25 inches of ice on exposed surfaces.

Freezing rain occurs when there is a layer of hot air between two stock cold, icy cold air. When snowflakes fall from the sky and travel through the warm layer of air, they melt into raindrops. But when it reaches the ground, the cold air under the rain freezes as soon as it comes in contact with a surface.

This leads to a glaze of ice that covers everything that the icy rain touches. And when it rains like this for hours on end, enough ice accumulates to qualify as an ice storm.

How does an ice storm differ from a hailstorm?

Hail is also a form of frozen rain. But the biggest difference between a hailstorm and an ice storm is that hail freezes before it hits the ground.

While freezing rain is snow that melts into rain and freezes, hail begins as raindrops. These raindrops are drawn into the cold upper atmosphere by thunderstorms, where they freeze and form round hail. When the hailstones become heavy enough, or the ascent weakens, the hail falls to the ground like frozen ice balls.

Where do ice storms occur?

Ice storms and freezing rain are most common in the Midwest and Northeast regions. of the United States. However, because they require warm air pockets, they can occur much further south than other forms of winter weather ̵

1; including areas in Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Alabama and the Carolinas.

The effects of ice storms in traditionally warmer climates can be particularly devastating – road workers and electricity companies are less prepared for winter weather.

What type of damage can an ice storm cause?

Ice storms can cause damage in several ways.

  • Dangerous. driving conditions: Perhaps the most obvious effect is that it turns surfaces such as roads and sidewalks into an ice rink. Much like black ice, it can be extremely dangerous to walk or drive on slippery icy roads. For example, in February 2021, freezing rain in Fort Worth, Texas, resulted in 133 cars ending up on Interstate 35, killing six people during their morning commute. Learn more about driving on black ice.
  • Falls that fall and power lines: According to The Weather Channel, ice accumulation can increase the weight of tree branches up to 30 times. And it can add 500 pounds of extra weight to power lines. Strong winds can exacerbate the effects of this extra weight, knocking down trees and snapping off electricity pylons. up to three inches in some places. Millions of people lost power, and property damage amounted to more than $ 3 billion.

How long can an ice storm last?

The icy rain that causes an ice storm usually lasts for several hours. But the ice and the damage it leaves behind can take days, or even weeks, to clean up.

Fallen trees can block roads. Discontinued power lines can leave home without power. And since ice can not be plowed by the road like snow, drivers must wait until all the ice has melted before the roads are safe again. In warmer climates where road sections do not have plows, salt and other ice melting agents, the melting time is often up to mother nature.

Related: Should I pump my brakes when driving on ice?

How can you prepare for an ice storm?

Here are some ways you can protect your home and family during an ice storm.

  • Stay away from the roads. Driving on icy roads can be extremely dangerous. When an ice storm is in the forecast, do not plan to drive unless absolutely necessary. If you absolutely have to go out, winter tires can make a world of difference. Learn how snow tires work and how to shop for them.
  • Prepare for a power outage. During an ice storm, it is highly likely that you may be without power. Read about how to survive a power outage and make sure you have a well-stocked emergency kit for your home. You may even want to consider buying a backup power generator. Remember to never use an indoor generator.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector. If you plan to use a gas-powered generator during a power outage, make sure you keep it well ventilated and have carbon monoxide detectors in your home.
  • Remove ice ponds. An ice pond is an ice ridge that occurs on the edge of the roof of your house that prevents melting snow and ice from running off the roof of your home. It can also lead to internal water damage. To remove it, apply an ice melt product such as calcium chloride, which will melt the ice and allow water to drain from the roof and gutters. Learn more about ice ponds and how to remove them.

Can an ice storm damage my home?

Ice storms can also cause damage to your home. Some potential problems may include:

  • Water leaks: Ice dams and other ice-related roof problems can cause water to enter your home.
  • Frozen pipes: Cold temperatures can cause frozen pipes to crack.
  • Roof Collapse: The extra weight from all that ice can be more than the roof of your home can carry.

Talk to an insurance expert like your local ERIE agent to understand your homeowners' ins and outs insurance . Your agent can explain the type of damage that homeowners insurance can (and cannot) cover, and how to protect themselves from the unexpected things in life.

Related reading: Ice Storms, Frozen Pipes, and Black Ice

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