Winter storms are on the way. While many people are anxious to see landscapes covered in white, others already are counting down the days to spring blooms. Weather can be awe-inspiring and interesting, and learning the secrets about snow is no exception.
Snow forms when water vapor in the atmosphere freezes into ice crystals. Snow falls as snowflakes, which come in a variety of shapes. However, according to Mental Floss, snow also can precipitate as graupel or sleet. Graupel are pellets of opaque ice particles that fall through freezing cloud droplets. They are not the same as sleet, which are drops of rain that freeze into small, translucent balls of ice.
Snowflakes are generally small and accumulate to form visible snow coverings. However, snowflakes can be large. The largest snowflake on record was reported to be 15 inches across and eight inches thick. According to “The Guinness Book of World Records,” this giant snowflake was discovered at Fort Keogh, Montana, on January 28, 1887.
Although it appears white, snow is actually clear and colorless. The National Snow and Ice Data Center says the complex structure and many facets of snow crystals results in visible light being reflected. Light is absorbed uniformly over the wavelengths of visible light, which gives snow its white appearance.
Even though snow is more common in northern elevations and cold regions, snowfall is not exclusive to frigid climates. In the United States, snow has fallen in cities most often associated with sun and warmth, such as San Diego, Miami and Hawaii. The southern Italy town of Capracotta received 100 inches of snow in 18 hours on March 5, 2015. In spite of its location, Capracotta has been known to receive enormous one-day snowfalls.
While snow can fall even in warm climates, the world record holder for the most snow belongs to a northern area. Mt. Baker ski resort in Washington state experienced 1,140 inches in the 1998/1999 winter season.
Snow can fall at temperatures well above freezing. According to ScienceBits.com, snow can still fall at temperatures as warm as 46 F. For snow to fall when temperatures are warm, humidity has to be very low.
Even though there’s a common perception that no two snowflakes are alike, this isn’t completely accurate. A scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research found two identical snow crystals in 1988. Also, similar results have been produced in laboratories.
Snow is an interesting form of precipitation. It can be scarce or plentiful, form in the north or the south, and may feature tiny snowflakes or extremely large ones. Snow also may take on the color of its surrounding environment.