The Science Behind Snow

Photos by: SPECTRUM Photographer, Yona Al-Tahir


Water molecules in a single snowflake can only fit together in a way that creates a six-sided crystal of ice. Just look under a microscope!


Snow storm or blizzard? Certain criteria must be met for a storm to officially be considered a blizzard. For a blizzard to be reported, winds must blow 56 km per hour and the snowfall must reduce visibility to less than 0.4 km for at least three hours.


Think every snowflake is unique? That’s actually not always the case. In 1988, a scientist named Nancy Knight at the National Center for Atmosphere Research in Colorado, found two identical snowflakes. These 2 flakes came from a storm out of Wisconsin


Since snow is made up of translucent ice particles, snow itself is actually colourless. The light reflected off of a snowflake’s multifaceted snowflake creates the white appearance. Why white? No wavelength is absorbed or reflected, so the white light bounces back as the colour white.


If you’ve wondered how one day you can be walking through light fluffy snow, while the next day the precipitation seems like pure falling ice, the answer depends on atmospheric conditions. Snow can fall as graupel (snow pellets) from cloud particles colder than the freezing point of water, but remain liquid. These droplets are soft, whereas sleet is compromised of frozen rain drops that turn into translucent balls of ice as they fall.



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