Some facts about snow that you do or don’t know!
Reprinted from the February 2008 Cardinal
Snow crystals photographed by Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley in 1885 bookend an electron micrograph
of a snow crystal with hoarfrost clinging to both ends. (Public domain photos.)
- Snow is a mineral, like diamonds and salt, and forms crystals.
- Snowflakes are generally clusters of perfectly symmetrical crystals stuck together.
- Many snow crystals are almost identical in their early stages of growth, and even some fully formed ones are very similar.
- A snow crystal can be 50 times as wide as it is thick, so it is generally far thinner than a piece of paper.
- Almost every snow crystal has at its centre a tiny speck of dust, which can be anything from volcanic ash to a particle from outer space. As the crystal grows around the speck, humidity, temperature, and wind influence its shape, and its history of descent to the ground is recorded in its intricate design.
- The first photographs of snow crystals were taken by “Snowflake” Bentley in 1885 by attaching a bellows camera to a microscope and manipulating the frozen subjects with a severed turkey wing. After capturing more than 5000 stunning crystals, he died of pneumonia.
- Fresh snow is a good thermal insulator because it is typically 90 to 95% air.
- According to the Guinness World Records, the largest snowflake ever recorded was a 15-incher (38 cm) in Fort Keogh, Montana in 1887.
- Do not eat “watermelon snow”. It gets its red colour and watermelon smell from a species of pigmented alga that grows on ice. Although it tastes great, it causes diarrhea.
- With regard to avalanches, there is no need to whisper. Shouting, yodeling, and most other loud noises cannot trigger an avalanche.
- It doesn’t snow very much at the poles. Most blizzards there consist of old snow blowing around.
- In Antarctica, the hard, flat snow reflects sound waves with incredible efficiency, so that some researchers claim to have heard human voices a mile away.
- Too much snow can drive a person crazy. Pibloktoq, a little-understood hysteria seen in people inhabiting the Arctic, can cause a wide range of symptoms, including echolalia (senseless repetition of overheard words) and running around naked in the snow.
- According to the “snowball Earth” theory, roughly 600 million years ago our planet was entirely covered in snow and ice. Others claim that no complex life could have survived that wintry big freeze.
Kruglinski, S. 2008, January. 20 things you didn’t know about snow. Discover 29(1):80.