Atmosphere And Weather

A Guide to the different Types of Snowflakes



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Snowflakes are like human DNA:  No two snowflakes are exactly alike.  So when a particular, minute snowflake melts, it is gone forever.  This is what makes them so fascinating!

The next question that comes up is of course, the nagging why, and apparently, those clouds up there are responsible for the uniqueness of each snowflake.  An article entitled “Are No Two Snowflakes Really Alike?” which appears at SixWise.com, reveals that “snowflakes are formed inside of clouds, when water droplets freeze and become ice particles.”

Wouldn’t it be truly wonderful to become an eyewitness to this process?  No doubt, it will rival the experience of snowflakes falling down the nose, throwing snowballs, or even making angel wing caricatures in the snow.

SixWise.com reports that a man named Matt Coleman (no relation to the Coleman ice box) observed in 1887 at Fort Keogh, Montana, a snowflake “larger than milk pans”.  Certainly, this is another fascinating story, as most snowflakes are hardly visible to the naked eye.

The Guinness World Records has definitely kept a record of this.  But wouldn’t it be nice if someone took pictures of every snowflake out there?  On second thought, it’s probably going down the books as one of the most impossible of undertakings.

However, snowflake enthusiasts would be interested to know that SnowCrystals.com maintains a record of the most common types of snowflakes, complete with lovely illustrations or diagrams.  It is certainly a much better alternative to documenting every snowflake nature makes, a task that even a biblical patriarch like Noah will find hard to finish.

Suffice it to say that there are basically 35 different types of snowflakes, and Ken Libbrecht has so lovingly documented all these in his book, “Field Guide to Snowflakes.”  For the time being, let us content ourselves with a basic description of the five most common types, and extend our gratitude to the SixWise.com website.

There’s the stellar plate, an ice crystal with six broad arms forming a star-like image.  The general public is likely to be more familiar, though, with stellar dendrites, the ones with the tree-like branches, often the stuff of Christmas decorations.  There are needles, which nature tends to make once the temperature hovers around 25 degrees Fahrenheit.  Rimed crystals are the tiniest snowballs in existence.  Last but not the least, is the fern-like stellar dendrite, which forms the most intricate branching out in its design.  Not only that, stellar dendrites are simply the largest snowflakes out there.  They could be 5mm in diameter, sometimes more.

One popular poem declares that only God can make a tree, but the same can probably be said of snowflakes.  And when you come to think of it, don’t these unique crystals remind you of the double helix, which is the basic structure of our DNA, ribbons and all?

As complicated as the DNA structure is, its sequencing was finally completed in May 2006.  For snowflakes, this is not likely to happen as we know only too well they melt even before a camera shot can be snapped. 

In the final analysis, it is precisely this scenario, which makes it impossible to capture the true culprit behind slippages big and small: One, which you recover from rather quickly, your reputation still in tow; or the other, which already requires a hip replacement surgery.  For now, we can simply explain it away as accidentally slipping on ice crystals, a derogatory term that humans have devised to refer to snowflakes gone bad.            

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