On Snowflakes & Snow

A post on snow! Was it because I always liked snowflakes, or because I stumbled across the word “sastrugi” or because I was too chilled to the bone one night not to think of it? Whatever it was, here it is – beaming at you euphorically as it takes a seat & makes itself comfortable.

You’d never believe it, but there is a lot more to snow than meets the eye. In my research for this post, I’ve toiled through condensation, supercooling, saturated air, & desublimation. (Though I still don’t know what it means.) I’m going to keep it simple, though, because who wants to go through that kind of stuff?


We’ll begin with discussing the different shapes of snow crystals. Notice that I say “snow crystals” & not “snowflakes”, because many aren’t in the shape of a flake at all. In listing the shapes, I’m going to stick with simplicity, with only 5 types of snow crystals on the list.

  1. Dendrites – The snowflake we’re most familiar with is flat & 6-pointed. Its points branch out in a tree-like form. For this reason, it is called a dendrite, which comes from the Greek word dendron, meaning “tree”. Since this dendrite snowflake is flat, it’s sometimes called a planar dendrite.
    Planar Dendrite.png
  2. Columns – This is a wee column-shaped snow crystal, rather similar to the shape of a pencil. Column snow crystals are usually too small to be seen without a microscope. Interestingly, some column snowflakes are capped on the top & bottom, as in the photo below.

Capped Column.png

  1. Needles – These are long & thin, & yes (gasp), needle-like. They’re so tiny that they look like tiny white hairs.


  1. Hexagonal plates – These are 6-sided & flat. Sometimes there are star patterns in the middles of the hexagonal plates.
    Hexagonal Plate.png
  2. Rimed snow – I’ll have to introduce one of my terms here. It’s “supercooled”. A supercooled water droplet is a water droplet with a temperature that puts it into neither liquid nor solid form. (A water droplet is supercooled at about -55° F, well below water’s freezing point. It’s still unclear why it doesn’t solidify at that temperature.) Rime is a supercooled water droplet. If a snow crystal & rime make contact, it results in the freezing of the rime onto the surface of the crystal, rendering it “rimed”.
    Rimed Snow.png

Types of Snowfall

As it’s mid-January, I though I’d include these terms – they might come in handy.

  1. A snow flurry is a quick & light snowfall.
  2. A snow shower is a snowfall of varying intensity & relatively short duration.
  3. A snowburst is short but intense, & greatly reduces visibility.
  4. A snow squall is the same as a snowburst, but it also has high winds.
  5. A snowstorm features very large amounts of snowfall, but moderate winds.
  6. A blizzard is a violent snowstorm lasting at least three hours, with strong winds & subdegree temperatures.

Snow Formations

  • A cornice is comprised of ice & wind-blown snow, & it is generally found overhanging a ridge or cliff face.
  • A crust is a hard snow surface lying upon a softer layer.
  • Megadunes are giant dunes of snow in Antarctica composed of large snow crystals measuring up to 3/4 inch across.


  • Sastrugi occur when wind erodes or deposits snow in irregular grooves & ridges. (See above.)
  • Penitentes are thin, closely-spaced spikes of hardened snow, & they range in height from a few inches to a few feet. Fields of penitentes can develop over glaciated & snow-covered areas.


  • Ripple marks refer to the corrugation on a snow surface caused by wind – similar to the ripples sometimes seen in sand.
  • A snow bridge is an arch formed by snow that has drifted across a crevice, forming first a cornice, & then a bridge right over the crevice.

Snow Bridge.png

  • A snow roller is a rare formation that occurs under specific conditions. Wind blows a chunk of snow along the ground, & the resulting snowball accumulates material as it rolls along.

Snow Roller.png

  • Sun cups refer to a pattern of shallow, bowl-shaped hollows that form under intense sunshine.

Fun Facts

I have a confession: provided the facts are new & actually interesting, the fun facts section is my favorite part. It’s my belief that this holds true for most people, too. That’s why the fun facts are always at the end – you have to end the post or article with something really stimulating.
Fun facts have been degenerating for many years, but it’s about time that we helped them reemerge, more inspirational than ever before. So here are mine:

  • Snow, like the ice particles it is made up of, is colorless. Light doesn’t pass through it easily, but is rather reflected off it. Because snow is made up of many tiny surfaces, the light that hits it is scattered in different directions & actually bounces around from one surface to the next as it’s reflected. This means no specific light is absorbed or reflected consistently, so the white light bounces back as the color white.
  • Chionophobia is the fear of snow.
  • In 1988, Nancy Knight found two identical snow crystals. (They were columns.)
  • Exactly 5,834 snow fighters came together to exchange frozen barrages in the largest snowball fight in the world on January 12, 2013.
  • One estimation says that 46% of the world’s population has never seen snow.
  • There is such a thing as “blood snow” – red snow. It is due to the presence of an alga called chlamydomonas nivalis.

Well, that’s it for snow. Besides, for the 54% of people who have seen snow, I personally think there’s no reason to prolong a discussion on it when they’ve experienced the whole dispiriting business themselves. 🙂

~ ninniforlife