The Magic of Snow Formation

Aug - 13 2018 | By

This is a snow appreciation site, which means we want to cover as much information about this weather phenomenon as we can. Sure, snow looks magical, and it has the power to transform a bleak January day into a sparkling winter wonderland. But snow itself is fascinating. Its formation seems nearly impossible; conditions have to be just right to produce the necessary crystals. Here, I’m going to lay out just how crazy snow formation is—hopefully, it’ll spark a deeper appreciation for it.


So, what exactly is snow? It’s solid precipitation that occurs in the form of a variety of small ice crystals. Snow forms when tiny crystals in clouds stick together to become snowflakes. If enough crystals stick together, they become heavy enough to fall to the ground. Isn’t that a neat image? Small particles in the clouds above us sticking together and eventually dropping out of the sky. I think that’s pretty neat.


Snow is formed when temperatures are low and there is enough moisture in the atmosphere to form tiny ice crystals. Precipitation falls as snow when the air is below 36 degrees Fahrenheit (around 2 degrees Celsius). You might be raising your eyebrows right now. Yes, you read that right—it doesn’t have to be freezing or below freezing for snow to form. In fact, the heaviest snowfalls often happen when the air temperature is between 32 and 36 degrees Fahrenheit. If, however, the temperature is warmer than 36 degrees, the snowflake will melt as it falls, landing as sleet or rain.


Snow density depends on the moisture of the air and the number of crystals clumped together. There are endless types of snowflakes (you’ve likely heard that each is unique; while it’s impossible to prove this, it could be true), and each is impacted by the formation temperature, precipitation temperature, wind, and path to the ground. Snow can dramatically alter a landscape in a matter of hours, and—when considered alongside this crazy formation process—it is perhaps one of the most interesting weather phenomena out there.

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