Snow at First Sight

Just Fell for It

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Set Up an Office Pool to Guess the First Day of Snow

We used to do a first-day-of-snow office pool at my old job. It wasn’t a big deal, but it was one of those things that made things seem a little less work-weary a couple days out of the year. I was thinking about those office pools again this year as we get to that time in which the first snow of the year is falling in different places. I wanted to write a little bit about this experience and provide some tips for anybody out there charged with running a pool for the first day of snow.


What Counts as the First Snow of the Year?

The biggest question you need to have the answer to is what counts as the first snow of the year. You may have your own wonderfully sweet childhood memories of seeing your yard blanketed in white for the first time, but the truth across an entire region can be a lot more ambiguous. One common strategy is to set the official first snow of the year as at least one-inch of measured snowfall at a specific weather station.

We strongly recommend setting an amount of at least one inch. Trace amounts may fall and melt overnight without any really noticing. You don’t want to create a controversy, but you don’t want to announce that the pool has been won to an incredulous office staff who had no idea there was even snow in the forecast.

Schools and other organizations that are likely to cancel at least one day or event may use this for their pool, rather than the first day of measurable snow. In some places, this adds an unknown element in which unusually dry and warm winters may not see an off-day at all. This can also expand the number of dates that are plausible winners, which is nice for larger staffs. Plus, even more so than measured snow at a specific weather station, an official day off work is even less ambiguous. School office pools may also have the option of creating a secondary winner on the first day with a delayed start due to snow.


How to Run an Office Pool

Apart from the unique factors related to first-snow pools, there are also the same money collection, pool information tracking, and decision-making that comes with other types of office pools. We came across this handy chart of pros and cons for different bookkeeping and communication methods for running an office pool. You can see the original chart from Fun Office Pools here.


Pool Method Pros Cons
Paper and Pencil
  • Cheap
  • Easy for simple pools (10×10 grid)
  • Doesn’t work for complicated pools
  • Subject to errors
  • No communication to pool members
  • No automatic features
  • Labor intensive
Excel Spreadsheet
  • Cheap
  • Can handle more complicated pools
  • Flexibility on how the pool is scored
  • Labor intensive
  • No automatic features
  • No communication to pool members
  • Handles many automatic features
  • Easier on the commissioner
  • Possible cost
  • May be limited in how the pool is scored
  • May not be networked for easy pick entry
  • May not be available for the pool you want to run
  • Handles many automatic features
  • Networked – so greatly reduces the load on the commissioner
  • Easy communication with pool members
  • Possible cost (many web pools cost about $1/person)
  • May be limited in how the pool is scored
  • May not be available for the pool you want to run


Favorite Snow Scenes

This is a space for readers to submit their favorite snow scenes and memories. These don’t necessarily have to be “first time” moments, but I certainly encourage that. Think back to what you realized how magical snow was—maybe you were walking through a park on a snowy afternoon, or perhaps a hometown storm caused three consecutive snow days in seventh grade. No matter your memory, I want to hear it. If you have something to contribute, drop me a line so I can include it in the space below.


Spencer M. — I grew up in Texas, so I didn’t really experience snow until I moved north for college. I never got my driver’s license, so after years of pedestrian life, I came to abhor everything that fell from the sky; in Texas, it was often rain and hail. The first major snow I experienced was in December of 2012, and I’ll never forget it. I got up early on a Sunday to do some work on a paper. Everything outside was covered in a thick blanket of white, fluffy powder. Nobody on the quad was awake yet, and the falling snow barely made a sound. It was the most peaceful morning I‘d experienced to that point. Now, I don’t hate everything that falls from the sky… just the big, wet stuff.


Kayla H. — Growing up in Missouri, I never saw utility in snow. Sure, it was pretty sometimes, but it was mostly a nuisance. It makes the roads dangerous, walking becomes difficult, and I feel shut into my house. It wasn’t until I moved to Vermont for grad school when I finally understood what made snow amazing: skiing. I get why people without mountains hate the fluffy white stuff, but now every snowfall reminds me that skiing season is just around the corner.


Edward S. — I’ve never really liked snow, and I don’t really care for it now. I will say, though, that I appreciate its awesome power. In 2011, my hometown in Illinois was hit with close to five feet of snow during a single storm. The power was out, the roads were closed, and the school system didn’t even bother issuing a cancellation announcement—everyone just knew it was closed. I still don’t like snow, but anything that has the power to completely halt every possible movement is pretty cool in my book.

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.

Snow at First Sight: 2017 Report

Looking back at 2017 and the early snowfall schedules, the story has undoubtedly been a country divided—with the Eastern half of the country including the Great Lakes and the entire East Coast experiencing heavy snowfall and sub-zero temperatures. Erie, PA already known for big annual snowfall totals broke a two-day record for snow this year. The Western U.S., by contrast, has been relatively mild and relatively dry during the early winter season.


It’s kind of the worst of all possible scenarios. More than just skiing and alpine recreation, much of the Western U.S. depends on snow and the resulting snowpack to keep and protect their water supply. The dry conditions have extended even into California which is experiencing devastating wildfires followed by horrific mudslides.


While there are definitely recreation advantages to heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures in the East—from skiing to ice fishing to other winter sports—there also tens of millions of people who are just trying to get to work each day without feeling like they’re risking their lives. Indeed, dozens and dozens of people have already lost their lives to the wintry conditions.


Last year, in 2016, at least the western side of the Rocky Mountains saw a good amount of snowfall. Now, everywhere seems warm and dry. Much of Colorado’s snowpack is once again approaching a dangerously low level.


This type of uncertainty and regional disparities also seem to be happening with increasing frequency. Long-term climate forecasts suggest that global warming is likely to have a mixed effect on winter-like conditions overall, with a high-degree of variability and the potential for monster winter storms also on the rise.