Yesterday, Jeopardy! writers had to face the cold, hard truth that they messed up on a meteorology clue. During Wednesday’s game, guest host David Faber read the clue, “Precipitation coming down as a mixture of snow and rain.” The category for the answers was words that ended with “eet.” Naturally, a contestant answered, “sleet” and gained the allotted points. However, as weather experts quickly pointed out on social media, this was not the correct definition of the weather phenomenon.
It’s a common misconception that sleet is just a combination of frozen and thawed precipitation. And though that’s an easier way to visualize the difference between rain, snow and sleet, it’s not totally true. As it turns out, several Jeopardy! fanatics clarified that sleet is actually its own form of precipitation altogether. While it doesn’t involve a mixture of different water forms, it does require a mixture of air temperatures.
Get out your notebooks, Jeopardy! fans–this is about to get complicated.
‘Jeopardy!’ Fans Dissect Differences Between Precipitation Types
Rain occurs during warm weather (over 32 degrees Fahrenheit) and snow occurs during cold weather (under 32 degrees Fahrenheit). Although, snow can turn to rain if the air close to the earth is significantly warmer than the air around the clouds. Pretty easy, right, Jeopardy! fans?
Meanwhile, sleet initially starts as a snowflake in cold weather. However, a warm patch of air interrupts the precipitation’s journey towards the surface, which causes the snowflake to melt into rain. Then those raindrops pass into cold air again to refreeze into slush-like flakes. This is where Jeopardy! writers were confused. These newly formed flakes are not considered snow because they don’t possess the signature six-sided structure.
The Washington Post provided a good way to distinguish between rain, snow and sleet by listening to when it hits the side of a window. Rain is obviously the loudest when it bounces off the glass, while snow tends to quietly pile. Sleet, on the other hand, makes a much softer sound than rain but unlike snow is still distinguishably audible.
Still with us?
This doesn’t even count for the other common form of precipitation, freezing rain. Although, this one is a little easier to distinguish on the ground than sleet. The only real difference between freezing rain and regular rain is how it behaves once it reaches the earth. Freezing rain turns to ice, while rain stays in its liquid form. The precipitation’s final defining form is dependent on how cold or warm the surface is.
For more visually-driven Jeopardy! fans, this user posted a helpful graphic that demonstrates the difference between the four main forms of winter water.
Thanks to these diligent fans, it’s likely no mistake on the show will ever go unnoticed.