Atmosphere And Weather

Snowflake Formation

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"Snowflake Formation"
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The birth of a snowflake needs just the right environment to form and is never duplicated.  A snowflake starts in a cloud as a speck of dust, a portion of bacteria that is hovering within the cloud or any other substance that is in the cloud that is a solid element. They necessitate the precise temperature at freezing point or below as well as a good supply of moisture to make a snow flake happen.

This is when the ice crystals connect to the particles and when they have accumulated enough molecules they descend to the ground. Although snowflakes are never identical there are six basic patterns with which they can be identified. These patterns are needles, column capped that contain plates, plates, columns, dendrite and star.

Needle snowflakes

Needle snowflakes are beautiful and to some extent unsafe if they descend in the right place. This type of snowflake is the type that fall in the mountains and when the temperatures are just right they can cause avalanches very easily. They can be long like a needle and solid or long and hollow. Needles form when the temperatures are at the greater end of the moisture scale and the ground below is at the freezing point which is -2C or -10 C.

This type of snowflake falls from the middle height clouds. These snowflakes are very dense and weighty when they drop to earth but if they fall in lower areas they tend to be more hollow needles, it always depends on the quantity of moisture that is added to form them and the temperature is at the perfect level. The drier the atmosphere is the more firm they will appear.

Column capped with plates

Column capped with plates depends on the temperature as they fall to earth. These appear in the shape of a column with caps on both ends. The more changes in temperature during their journey, combined with different changes in moisture determine how this type of snowflake will look when it reaches its destination.

This type of snowflake is in reality two types of snowflakes combined. They start off higher in the clouds and drier moisture level and change as they go through the different types of moisture and temperatures as they go down. On their way to earth their exterior changes to that of star flakes. Due to the changes that take place on the way down, these snowflakes have a very different appearance from the time they are shaped than those we see.


Plates are snowflakes that start out being star flakes but due to the lack of moisture they receive they remain at what is called plates. This is a flat piece of snow without the design that star flakes produce, although the outline is generally the same without the stems that you find on a star flake. These flakes will form at temperatures of -10 to -20 C.  A hexagon plate has six sides with or without a pattern but there is typically the formation of a star in the hub. These are formed in very elevated clouds.


Column snowflakes are dissimilar in that they require drier air to form. Columns are frequently quite tiny and are a lot denser than other snowflakes. This happens when there just isn’t sufficient moisture for the column snowflake to finish forming. Column snowflakes can shape in an extensive assortment of temperatures that can range from 15 to 25 degrees C.  These snowflakes can emerge in an array of sizes such as six sided, short and squatty to long and extremely thin. Some may have caps while others do not. It all depends on the moisture that is available when they are forming.


Dendrites are an outstanding star. They are formed in the center with arms reaching out like branches on a tree. These boast a beautiful design with their three dimensions. It has to be extremely cold for a dendrite to form, with temperatures reaching -20C to -25 degrees C. Dendrites also need a very high content of moisture to form. These give the appearance of feathers or ferns and are exceptionally beautiful.


A star snowflake is the most common type that falls to earth. Seeing a perfectly formed star snowflake is very rare.  They are so delicate they don’t often make it all the way to earth without being broken by wind and sometimes when they hit other snowflakes. These are the most common snowflakes that you enjoy during the winter months.

Snowflakes are extremely interesting and worth a second look. They may not be duplicated but that adds to the mystery of the snowflake.  When snow falls again look at it closely and see which type of snowflake that is lying at your feet, you may be surprised and get a glimpse of the rare but perfect snowflake.

More about this author: Betty Carew

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