Illinois State Water Survey - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

State Climatologist Office for Illinois


Freezing rain - rain that falls in liquid form but freezes upon impact to form a coating of glaze upon the ground and on exposed objects.

Ice storm - a winter storm when damaging accumulations of ice occur from freezing rain, usually 0.25 inches or greater.

Supercooled rain drop - an undisturbed drop that has cooled to slightly less than it's freezing point without becoming a solid. Once disturbed by hitting the ground or an object, it may instantly crystalize.

Ice Storms in Illinois

Dr. Jim Angel, State Climatologist

Freezing rain occurs when rain becomes supercooled and freezes upon impact with any cold surface. Ice storms - defined as long periods of freezing rain - can be very dangerous, destructive, and disruptive events. They cause traffic accidents along with slip and fall accidents to pedestrians. Heavy ice loadings on trees and shrubs can cause limbs to break off or entire trees to be ruined. People have been injured or killed by falling ice, tree limbs, or other debris. Ice loadings on power lines and poles can cause them to fail. Falling tree branches can take out power lines as well. Interruptions in electrical power may take days to fix. 

Water Survey publications documenting recent ice storms:

How Freezing Rain Forms

This diagram showing what happens in the atmosphere during freezing rain. In the top-most blue layer where temperatures are below freezing, snow flakes have formed. In the slightly warmer middle layer, temperatures are above freezing, causing the snow flakes to melt into rain drops. In the shallow but very cold bottom layer, temperatures are once again below freezing. This time the rain drops are cooled to slightly below freezing. On impact with any object at or below freezing like a tree, car, or power line, they instantly freeze.

Freezing rain formation(click to enlarge)

Freezing Rain Occurrence Across Illinois

Here is the map of the frequency of freezing rain days in Illinois. Central Illinois is more likely to see freezing rain days than either southern or northern Illinois. However, damaging ice storms do occur throughout the state.

Freezing Rain Map

Illinois State Water Survey

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Champaign, IL 61820-7463

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