Learn About Snow

All precipitation (rain and snow) comes from water vapor in the air. If the air is warm, the frozen droplets melt and fall to the earth as rain. If the air is cold, however, the water vapor crystallizes around a speck of ice or dust and falls to the earth as snow. If there is no dust for the water vapor to crystallize on, it will remain in the air as a cloud, even if it gets as cold as -40 degrees Celsius! Note: -40 degrees Celsius = -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

There are many different types of snow that can be found due to the many different shapes of snowflakes that exist. The Eskimos, or Inuits, who live in the north, have developed many words in their language to describe the different types of snow. Some of these are:

  • anniu-- falling snow
  • api-- ground snow
  • siqoq-- smoky, drifting snow
  • upsik-- wind-beaten snow
  • kimoaqtruk-- snow drift
  • salumaroaq-- smooth snowy surface of fine particles
  • natatgonaq-- rough snowy surface of large particles
  • Why is some snow better for skiing and other types of snow better for making snowballs? Depending on the shape of the snowflakes and the amount of air space left between the flakes when they fall on top of each other, the snow has different consistencies. The type of snow that skiers like best is called powder snow. This type of snow is good for most snow sports. Powder snow is usually dry or slightly moist. Its density has to be less than 200 kilograms for every meter of snow. The density of something indicates how much it is compacted (or condensed). Snow that is more densely packed (and where some of the snowflakes have been crushed and formed small amounts of ice) makes better snowballs.

    Why is snow white? Snow crystals reflect the full spectrum of light, which we see as white. However, some snow is red, green, blue, or black. This occurs because of beautifully colored fungi that are rarely found in snow.

    Did you know that freshly fallen snow is much lighter than water? The reason is that there is a lot of air between the flakes! In very dry areas, 1 centimeter of water will produce 20 centimeters of snow. In very moist areas, 6 centimeters of snow will melt down to only 1 centimeter of water. Because it is compressed, older snow has less air between flakes and contains much more water. Glaciers are formed from the compression of snow over many years.

    Another "fun fact" is that it takes more energy to eat snow than it is worth. You use more energy eating it than you gain by hydrating (adding fluid to) your body. So, if you ever find yourself stranded in the snow and getting hungry, put the snow in your mouth and let it slowly melt. We hope this never happens to you!

    Click on the Words or Pictures to Explore Ice and Snow Further

    Ice and Snow Intro Greetings from Antarctica! Learn About Ice Make Your Own Flake Further Reading Dragonfly Home

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