The Science Of Snow

Ah, snow. The white stuff. No holiday season is complete without it. With its heterogeneous snowflakes and its potential as a weapon of mass destruction, snow can certainly be a wonderful thing. However, people seem to have mixed opinions about our cusiony friend. As you sit at home looking dreamily out the window while ‘White Christmas’ is wheezily blaring out in the background; some people are gifted with serious inconveniences due to the snow. Often the news is ablaze with notifications of travel delays and closing schools and businesses.

Hyde Park In The Snow

Hyde Park In The Snow

Well, that thing isn't going anywhere.

Well, that thing isn’t going anywhere.

But whether you prefer making snowmen or destroying them; snow is quite an incredible thing.

It is formed as a by-product of the hydrological cycle ( better known as the water cycle), Water on earth remains in a constant cycle. It moves from the ocean, seas, rivers, gets evaporated, goes into the atmosphere and again comes back to the earth in many forms; most commonly rain. However, sometimes, if the conditions are right than it could be recycled back in the form of snow or hail. Here’s a much more comprehensive presentation of how this vital substance is transported on earth and the adverse effects it could have on life.

As you can see, water is pretty much synonymous with life and the planet earth. Hence the term ‘the blue planet’. So should we be more comfortable with snow? Media projection of snow is generally negative, it stresses to highlight the problems it causes. However, snow is a natural process of the water cycle, without snow falling at some point or another; the water cycle would cease exist, and for that matter so would us!

Snow is always formed in the algid clouds because their temperature is low, generally below the freezing point ( 32 degrees Fahrenheit (°F) / 0 degrees Celsius (°C) ) . So, because of low temperature small ice crystals are formed in the clouds. These ice crystals in the atmosphere provide the moisture that is essential for the formation of snow. When these tiny ice crystals collide they stick together in clouds to become snowflakes. If enough ice crystals stick together, they’ll become heavy enough to fall to the ground. Pure snow is made up of many small crystals from two to 200. These crystals are made around the tiny dust particles. So the ice crystals are the tiny dust particles in the form of ice. This video explains why the dust is important in clouds in a fun, slightly melodramatic way.

A snow covered road in the Scottish Border.

A snow covered road in the Scottish Border.

The snowflakes you see gracefully falling down in the picture above are actually huge collections of miniscule ice crystals that have been clumped together .

This precipitation falls as snow when the air temperature is below 2 °C. It is a myth that it needs to be below zero to snow. If the temperature is warmer than 2 °C then the snowflake will melt and fall as sleet rather than snow; this is the stuff that looks a lot like snow but doesn’t settle very well-if at all- as it falls on the ground. If the temperature is warmer still, it will be rain.

Falling Sleet

The size and make up of a snowflake depends on how many ice crystals group together and this will be determined by air temperatures. Snowflakes that fall through dry, cool air will be small, powdery snowflakes that don’t stick together. This ‘dry’ snow is ideal for snow sports but is more likely to drift in windy weather.

When the temperature is slightly warmer than 0 °C, the snowflakes will melt around the edges and stick together to become big, heavy flakes. This creates ‘wet’ snow which sticks together easily and is good for making snow men.

He seems to be enjoying the snow!

The Lowdown:

  • hail: precipitation in the form of balls or irregular lumps of ice (5 mm or more in diameter –anything smaller is considered an “ice pellet“).
  • snow: precipitation composed of white or translucent ice crystals, chiefly in the form of snowflakes.
  • sleet: a mixture of rain and snow.
  • freezing rain: rain that falls when surface temperatures are below freezing – the liquid precipitation freezes when it hits the super-cold surface.

And, a little list winter playlist to please your ears:

  1. White Stripes – In The Cold Cold Night
  2. Doors – Wintertime Love
  3. My Bloody Valentine – Soft As Snow (But Warm Inside)
  4. Tori Amos – Icicle
  5. Nick Cave and the Bad Sees – Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow
  6. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band -Tenth Avenue Freeze Out
  7. XTC- Snowman
  8. Devo – Snowball
  9. Concrete Blonde – Cold Part Of Town
  10. Sisters Of Mercy – Driven Like The Snow
  11. Aztec Camera -Walk Out To Winter
  12. Sarah McLachlan – Ice
  13. Superchunk – Silverleaf and Snowy Tears
  14. Curve – Frozen
  15. Frank Zappa – Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow
  16. Fountains of Wayne – Valley Winter Song
  17. Marvin Gaye – Purple Snowflakes
  18. Elvis Costello – I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came
  19. Kate Bush – Under Ice
  20. Stars – What The Snowman Learned About Love

2 thoughts on “The Science Of Snow

  1. Pingback: Incredibly Cold, Absolutely Beautiful | Journey of Mixed Emotions

  2. Pingback: #THISSNOWCANTHOLDMEBACK « Fairy Godsister's Blog

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