Atmosphere And Weather

Everything you want to know about Snowflakes

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"Everything you want to know about Snowflakes"
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Anyone who has lived in a northern climate can attest to the wondrous phenomenon of snowflakes falling from the sky, much like a snow globe being shaken and turned upside down. Examining their intricacies and complexities of design, the first fact about snowflakes is no two snowflakes are exactly alike. In this vein, it is quite exciting to find intriguing statistics about snowflakes.

Technically, snowflakes are formed from water vapor frozen in clouds. When an ice particle forms, water vapor collects on this ice crystal, and shoots outward to make complex shapes. Due to frequently changing temperatures and moisture content in clouds,  various conditions affect the shape of each snowflake. Even though changes may come on quickly, the hexagonal or six-sided symmetry of a snowflake is basically maintained. The size of a snowflake depends on the number of ice crystals that hook up to form its pattern.

While snowflakes can be categorized into seven principal types, there are actually about 35 main shapes that are highly recognizable by the human eye. The seven principal types are: plates (flat); spatial dendrites (tree-like); columns (conical); spatial columns; needles(like bits of white hair); stellar crystals (star-shaped); irregular forms, such as rosettes that have random orientation.

When temperatures are around 32 degrees F. (0 degrees C.), snowflakes become larger and more intricate in design as this is the freezing point. In extremely cold weather, snow becomes very fine and powdery, more needle or rod-shaped; these in turn can connect with other snowflakes to form bigger ones.

Because snow is frozen water, if there is not enough moisture in the air, it can not snow. Along the same lines, if temperatures are too frigid, it also can not snow. However, there does not have to be a snowstorm in the forecast for a sudden mini-blizzard to be created, as many people who live near large bodies of water are well-acquainted with "lake effect" snow.

As water vapor is lifted from the surfaces of rivers/lakes/oceans, heavy snowfall comes about: the warmer the air, the more water vapor, the more snow. As a matter of fact, there is so much pervasive snow at both North and South Poles, this snowy surface has the ability to take the sun's heat and reflect it into space; the ice acting as a mirror, bouncing off the sun's rays.

Contrary to popular belief, snowflakes are not always white. In the old days, when coal was the main source of fuel for homes and industry alike, it was not uncommon to see grey snowflakes, the result of coal dust absorbed by clouds. Invariably, places like Prince Edward Island, Canada, where snowflakes can be pink, is often a result of reddish clay soil blowing into the air and being absorbed by clouds. Those living on the prairies tend to call their snow "snirt", a combination of dirt and snow flying off from dusty dry fields.

In any given snowstorm, billions of snowflakes can fall in a very short time. A snowstorm is considered a blizzard only if a person can not see 1/4 mile ahead of him, and winds are clipping at 35 miles an hour or more. To be classified as a blizzard, a snowstorm must last for three or more hours.

Anyone old enough to remember the Blizzard of '93 can attest to the ferocity of a violent snowstorm. This blizzard occurred the middle of March, laying its grip on the entire Eastern seaboard. People from southern climates, hearing of this impending beautiful snowfall, rushed to travel north, hoping to experience an amazing sight. Ironically, they were humbled by the devastation of this blizzard, as thousands were stranded on highways and wayside motels, without heat nor electricity. Worse still, was a group of Boy Scouts who got caught hiking in the mountains, with little shelter and a handful of seeds for food, waiting for the storm to subside.

For those who love snow and winter activities, the snow capital of the U.S. is Stampede Pass, in Washington State, where the yearly snowfall averages 430 inches. For statistically-motivated people, the Guinness Book of Records claims the largest snowflake was found in Montana, January 1887, by Matt Coleman. This humongous snowflake measured 15" in width, and 8" in thickness, about the size of a milk pan.

To break all records, the tallest snowman ever built was completed in February 17/1999, by the people of Bethel, Maine. It took two weeks to build this snow statue, which stood approximately 110 feet high, with a car tire for a mouth and trees to make his arms.

The final fun fact about snowflakes: whenever there is a blizzard in the forecast, people tend to buy or eat comfort foods that are sugary and sweet, as opposed to other types of food. These are the facts about snowflakes.

More about this author: Ann Major

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