Should You Shovel Snow Before Freezing Rain?

When you’re expecting freezing rain, it’s best to wait to shovel, snowblow, or plow until after the freezing rain passes. Here are the reasons why:

  • Freezing rain turns to ice as soon as it makes contact with a surface. Any recently shoveled areas become glossy sheets of ice when the freezing rain comes down.
  • Paved surfaces (walkways, driveways, etc.) become especially dangerous slip hazards when exposed to freezing rain.
  • If you allow the freezing rain to fall on snow, it will become a crust on top of the snow. Then, you can clear away all of it at once.

These are all great arguments for waiting to shovel snow until the freezing rain has passed. Just be sure it’s freezing rain you’re dealing with. Regular rainfall will turn snow into heavy, soggy slush. You want to shovel any snow before regular rain comes, but wait out freezing rain.

Should you shovel snow before freezing rain?

How Do You Prepare for Freezing Rain?

Freezing rain is created when snowflakes form in the clouds, then hit a warm belt of air on the way down, causing them to lose their crystalline “flake” structure and turn into globs of partially frozen water. It’s nasty stuff that can leave a layer of ice on cars, trees, homes, and roads. Naturally, you want to be prepared for incoming freezing rain. Here’s how:

  • Monitor the weather for updates.
  • Prepare for power outages (turn your refrigerator and freezer to their coldest settings).
  • Prepare an emergency food and supply kit.
  • Fill up your gas tank.
  • Don’t shovel, snowblow, or plow snow.
  • Apply salt brine to any paved surfaces you want to keep ice-free.
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Should You Snowblow Before Freezing Rain?

It’s best to wait until after the freezing rain has passed to fire up the snowblower. If you snowblow first, you will either leave a thin layer of compacted snow behind or bare pavement. When freezing rain hits these surfaces, it turns them to ice. You’d have better luck crossing it on skates than on foot.

Snow can actually act as a shield against freezing rain. The upper layer of snow will develop a crust from the freezing rain, but ice won’t reach the ground. If you’ve got a good snowblower, it’ll chew through crusted snow no problem, but it will be helpless against a layer of ice.

Should You Use De-Icers Before Freezing Rain?

The best way to stop freezing rain from turning areas into an ice rink is to stop ice from forming in the first place. A salt brine solution is the best way to combat freezing rain on cleared or paved surfaces free of snow.

Because saltwater has a lower freezing temperature than unsalted water, the salt solution will stop freezing rain from bonding to the ground and forming a sheet of ice. If you must snowblow, shovel, or snowplow when freezing rain is in the forecast, use a salt brine de-icing solution on any cleared areas to keep ice from forming there.

Is Freezing Rain Worse than Snow?

Ice hanging from the left side mirror of a car after freezing rain during a cold winter day

Freezing rain is considered by most to be more hazardous than snow. Whenever freezing rain touches a surface, it turns to ice. This causes it to cling to cars, roads, power lines, and trees. This heavy layer of ice can cause power outages from downed lines, fallen trees, and hazardous road conditions.

Snow drifts and piles, but is much lighter by volume than the ice, so it causes less damage to trees and power lines. While driving in heavy snow can be very dangerous, and deep drifting snow can cause damage, freezing rain is typically more dangerous than snow.

Can Freezing Rain Turn to Snow?

Because freezing rain is created by unique weather patterns where snow forms in high clouds and passes through warmer air on the way down, it’s very rare for freezing rain to turn into snowfall. Usually, the conditions for freezing rain will persist for several hours, until the weather pattern moves on.

That said, keep your eye on the forecast when freezing rain is in the offing. If temperatures continue to warm, freezing rain may turn into regular rainfall. This is good news because standard rain is much less hazardous than freezing rain, but it also means you’ll want to clear your snow before rain turns it into a soggy, heavy mess that clogs snowblowers and makes for backbreaking shoveling.

Shoveling Snow Before Freezing Rain

If you can, wait to shovel snow until after freezing rain has passed. Freezing rain on newly shoveled ground, especially paved surfaces, will turn them into icy slip zones that are hard to navigate and clear. Freezing rain falling on snow will form a crust on the snow, which is much easier to shovel than a layer of ice.

If you must clear snow before freezing rain, use a salt brine solution on recently cleared ground. This will help to prevent ice formation where the freezing rain lands.

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