Precipitation starts in the cloud as snow. As it falls, it may travel through a layer of air that has a temperature greater than 32 F. Or, if the layer of sub-freezing air at ground level is thin, the precipitation falls as rain but then freezes once it touches a freezing object on the ground.
Freezing rain is the name given to rain maintained at temperatures below freezing by the ambient air mass that causes freezing on contact with surfaces. A storm that produces a significant thickness of glaze ice from freezing rain is often referred to as an ice storm.
But the actual reason is what we are looking for. This happens when rain forms in clouds above a cold region. The rain then freezes as it falls through the cold region of air. As the snow or ice falls, it enters a warm layer of air, and melts. Then it can be blown back up into the freezing air, freezes again, and falls again.
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