Atmosphere And Weather

How does Snow Form



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The freezer in your refrigerator sure knows how to make snow.  In fact, it is the best place to observe the process.  This, however, will detract significantly from the mystery and the magic, which surround snow, as we know it.

Snow is but a powder, locked in solid state, yet ready to turn into liquid form or even evaporate back into the ether depending on temperature.  We all know that such metamorphosis can happen rather quickly, quite unlike that of the butterfly.

Snow is born in the clouds at high altitudes.  In Meteorology Today:  An Introduction to Weather, Climate, and the Environment, Donald C. Ahrens writes:  “Cold clouds are clouds that exist within air that is at, or below, the freezing point.”

“As an ice crystal is blown back and forth between the top and bottom of the cloud, it grows in two ways,” Ahrens continues.  However, there is a prequel to this supposed snow birth.  Donna Thacker, eHow contributor has captured it succintly: “Snow begins as a tiny ice crystal, or even a small speck of dust.  When there is a lot of moisture in the air, condensation starts to occur.”

Imagine the clouds as giant wind turbines with an invisible shield, enclosing the newborn snow like an embryo, then causing it to perform some form of dance, or a pirouette if you will.  Without this dance, the baby snow cannot attract enough particles to stick to itself, in order for gravity to bring it down.

Wind conditions up in the air, may further delay the new snow’s landing on the face of the earth.  Worse, it might not even make it at all, melted by temperature even before its downward journey begins:  Snow, Interrupted.

Who knows, it might even land in some airborne seagull’s beak, thereby getting a free ride, only to be transformed into a drop that its accidental transporter may need to quench its thirst.  But for billions and billions of snow, which never make it to the ground, many more will take its place.  This is how the magic of white Christmas happens, or the tragedy of an avalanche.

Even as snow continues to fuel man’s imagination, it will no doubt persist in igniting his fears as well.  For what seems to come down from the heavens like a meteor shower, can also wreak havoc on earth in the worst possible manner. Imagine the Blizzard of 1996, which blanketed the state of Virginia, United States in four feet of snow. 

It’s amazing how something so light, so ephemeral, can bury you in its unintended fury.  You might say that the tides of the seas are worse, as they bring about tsunamis and tidal waves of killer proportions.  However, snow is probably the worst, because it tends to wreak havoc in an unexpected fashion, as when it accumulates in the backyard while everybody is fast asleep.

So you might say, snow looks so pure, but rather creepy in its purity.  Besides, snow never really dies, it is only reborn, and has far too many reincarnations enough to overwhelm even the Hindu religion.      

Now it is but a speck of dust performing a lively dance, the snow dance, and the next, it is a raging avalanche after the dear life of an amateur backcountry skier.  Next, it weaves Christmas magic, yet before you know it, it finds itself adorning the mountaintops, reborn as a glacier, which man can only hope, might stay there still.

Indeed, the birth of snow is so insignificant that nobody remembers.  And who cares about its rites of passage?  All we know is it is an offspring of some wild dancing somewhere in the atmosphere, with the possibility of causing a catastrophe or Christmas joy on earth.  Perhaps when snow becomes a casualty of global warming, then humanity will remember, but by then it will be too late.  For at this point, the snow dance will only be a distant memory.        

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