Snow at First Sight

Just Fell for It

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August 2018

Wet Snow vs. Dry Snow—Isn’t it the Same?

If you’ve experienced snow on more than one occasion, you likely noticed that it’s never truly the same. Some snow is sticky and wet, while some is powdery and dry. But wait, isn’t snow created from water? How can it be dry? I understand the confusion, believe me. Snow is a strange thing, never falling in the exact same way. I want to try to explain some major differences in snowfall, though. The most apparent is the difference between wet and dry snow. If you’ve tried to build a snowman with the latter, or perhaps made a too-hard snowball out of the former, this will hopefully clear up some confusion.

 

Snow can be wet and dense or light and powdery. Surface temperature is the primary cause for these differences. When the surface temperatures are just above freezing, snow can melt slightly, which adds more moisture. The added moisture melts crystals around the edges, allowing them to stick together and become big, heavy flakes. This creates heavy, wet snow, which sticks together easily and is perfect for building snowpeople and other structures.

 

In contrast, light, powdery snow contains less water. Generally, around five inches of dry snow will melt to be only half an inch of water. The same amount of wet snow will melt to be around an inch of water. Powdery snow is formed when air temperatures are very cold. Dry, cold air will produce small, powdery snowflakes that don’t stick together. These are more likely to drift in windy weather, and they are less likely to cause ice build-up.

 

Snow is a tricky thing, and it can be difficult to anticipate the types of activities and precautions you may need to take to prepare for a large storm. The best way to anticipate the type of snow is to keep an eye on the temperature when snow is forecasted. When temperatures hang out in the mid-30s, it is likely to be heavy and wet; anything under 32 and the snow will be relatively harmless powder.



The Magic of Snow Formation

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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