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Things you probably didn’t know about snow

5 min read

As we contemplated snow, we discovered some surprising facts about it.
Whether you love it, curled up on the couch watching snowflakes fall outside your window, or you hate it travelling down a snow-covered road….how many of these brrrilliant facts you know?

First, snow is not white, but translucent.
The reason snow appears white is because of the light reflecting off the sides of the snowflake, diffusing the color spectrum. It is the sunlight’s reflection gives snow its white appearance.
But snow can also appear orange, yellow, pink, green and even purple.
Despite it’s technically colorless, it may contain dust or algae that give it other colors.
For example, a curious orange snow fell over Siberia in 2007 and an example of pink snow, or watermelon snow, covered the Russian city of Krasnodar in 2010.
Watermelon snow is common in mountains and has a sweet smell and taste.
Caused by algae containing astaxanthin, a chemical similar to the one found in carrots, it was mentioned in the early writings of Aristotle.
However, it will make you sick so, please, don’t eat it!

A single snowstorm can drop 39 million tons of snow, carrying the energy equivalent to 120 atom bombs!
And snow also affects sound.
Freshly fallen snow absorbs sound waves, giving everything a seemingly hushed, quieter ambiance after a flurry. But if the snow then melts and refreezes, the ice can reflect sound waves making sound travel further and clearer.
However, a yodel won’t cause an avalanche.
There are a number of factors that can trigger an avalanche, but noise isn’t one of them. Weight is a much more important contributor. For example, a sudden deluge of snow, an increase in wind speed or even the over-zealous footstep of a skier can trigger a sudden, deadly, cascade. But a loud burst of terrible singing, that won’t have much of an effect.

Moreover, snow is classified as a mineral, because frozen water, or ice, is a naturally occurring solid.
Native Alaskans have many words for “snow”, and should get together with snowboarders: skiers, in fact, are always use different words, such as “pow pow”, “mashed potatoes”, “champagne snow”, “cauliflower”, “sticky snow”, or “dust on crust” to describe the snow.
In any case, It’s often stated that the Inuit have 50 words for snow, a fact that was discredited as pure speculation, and then confirmed as roughly accurate. But no matter how many they actually have, it pales in comparison to the Scots. Researchers at the University of Glasgow claim that the Scots language has 421 terms related to the white stuff, including ‘skelf’ (a large snowflake), ‘spitters’ (small drops of driving snow) and ‘unbrak’ (the beginning of a thaw).

“Fear of Snow” is a real thing, called “chionophobia” which comes from “chion”, the Greek word for snow. In case you wondering what’s so scary, imagine being caught in an avalanche or buried under snow.
For some, it’s similar to fear of water.
But, either way, too much snow isn’t good for you.
Spend too much time on the slopes and you could suffer from piblokto or “Arctic hysteria”, a disorder affecting Inuit people living within the Arctic circle. Symptoms include meaningless verbal repetition or performing irrational or dangerous acts, followed by amnesia of the event. Vitamin A toxicity is thought to be one source of the disorder, though in recent years researchers have questioned whether the illness, thought to be based on as little as eight cases, actually exists at all.

About 90% of fresh, compacted snow is air and it is a great insulator that keeps us warm.
Since snow is approximately 90 to 95 percent trapped air, this is the reason why many animals burrow deep into the snow during winter in order to hibernate.
It’s also the reason that igloos, that use only body heat to warm them, can be 100 degrees warmer inside than outside.
So, If you’re ever stuck in the snow, build a snow cave!

Snow is good also for the garden, as it provides needed moisture as well as nutrients.
Whatever you may think, remember the old saying, “A good winter with snow makes all the plants grow.”
Despite how cold it feels to the skin, it is an excellent insulator also of the soil.
Without snow, very cold temperatures can freeze the soil deeper and deeper and, in wintry climates, this could lead to damage of root systems of trees and shrubs. Snow prevents extreme cold temperatures from harming plants. Snow also helps conserve soil moisture over the winter.

Snowflakes seem to flutter slowly but they can also fall very quickly in wintery conditions.
How fast? Up to 15 km/h!
Nitrogen attaches to snowflakes as the snow falls through the atmosphere.

Two snowflakes are never the same.
Or, let’s just say that the likelihood in nature is very very minute (or not? Learn more about snowflake shapes and the man who studied them!)
There are many of many molecules plus each snowflake follows a different path through the atmosphere.
But snowflakes aren’t the only form of snow.
Snow can also precipitate as snow pellets or sleet. Snow pellets are opaque ice particles that form in the atmosphere as ice crystals fall through freezing cloud droplets, meaning cloud particles that are colder than the freezing point of water but remain liquid. The cloud droplets group together to form a soft, lumpy mass. Sleet, on the other hand, consists of drops of rain that freeze into small, translucent balls of ice as they fall from the sky.

In any case, snowflakes can get huge!
Probably you don’t know that, according to Guinness World Records, the largest snowflakes on record were 38 cm in diameter and 20 cm thick.
They fell on Fort Keogh, in eastern Montana on 28 January 1887. Nearby ranchers described the flakes as “larger than mild pans”.
Google celebrated the 125th anniversary of the event with one of its doodles, an animated cartoon of a really big flake.
Imagine shoveling stuff like that off your driveway!

Well, If you are a skier, snow may be good sign of a great winter.
If you aren’t, it’s time to start stacking the firewood. Sigh!
But don’t think for a second we are the only mammals to enjoy a good snowball fight!
Japanese macaques, also know as snow monkeys, have been observed making and playing with balls of snow. It seems that young macaques enjoy stealing each others snowballs, then battling to retrieve them….

Images from web – Google Research