WTF Fun Fact 13079 – Snowflakes Require Dust or Pollen

Snowflakes are frozen bits of water that form around a “nucleus.” That nucleus is something that must already exist in the air – like a dust or pollen particle.

How are snowflakes made?

All political jokes aside, snowflakes are actually an interesting natural phenomenon.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (cited below): “A snowflake begins to form when an extremely cold water droplet freezes onto a pollen or dust particle in the sky. This creates an ice crystal. As the ice crystal falls to the ground, water vapor freezes onto the primary crystal, building new crystals – the six arms of the snowflake.”

This doesn’t mean the air is dirty or polluted – after all, pollen is completely natural!

Who are snowflakes so unique?

You may be wondering why all snowflakes are unique if they each require the same circumstances in order to form.

NOAA has an answer for that!

Snowflakes are made up of ice crystals. These build up around the nucleus symetrically “because they reflect the internal order of the crystal’s water molecules as they arrange themselves in predetermined spaces (known as “crystallization”) to form a six-sided snowflake.”

A combination of air temperature, humidity, and the speed at which they fall determine precisely how the ice crystals form into different shapes. When it warmer, the crystals have a longer, sharper shape and when it’s cold, they tend to be shorter and flatter.

Snowflakes always have six sides, but those “arms” can branch off in different directions depending on those factors as well.

That’s why no two snowflakes are exactly alike.

Of course, when you get 5 or 6 feet of snow, it’s pretty hard to think about those snowflakes as individuals! They all go in the same shovel!  WTF fun facts

Source: “How do snowflakes form? Get the science behind snow” — NOAA

WTF Fun Fact 13078 – World’s Biggest Snowflake

We really can’t picture the world’s biggest snowflake. Apparently, it was 15 inches long. But there is no photo since it was spotted by multiple people all the way back in 1887. Nothing has overtaken it in the Guinness Book of World Records because…well, how do you preserve a snowflake long enough to prove it?

According to the Guinness Book of World Records page for the “largest snowflake”: “It is reported that on 28 Jan 1887 at Fort Keogh, Montana, USA, ranch owner Matt Coleman measured a snowflake that was 15in 38cm wide and 8in 20cm thick, which he later described as being ‘larger than milk pans’ in Monthly Weather Review Magazine.”

Spotting the world’s biggest snowflake

Experts insist that snowflakes as large as frisbees or basketballs aren’t entirely out of the question – but they’re likely multiple snowflakes attached to one another.

Yet, since the 19th century, there have been multiple recorded sightings of such giant flakes falling from the sky (and really falling since their weight and size would make them fall faster than small snowflakes).

According to the NYT (cited below), there are still questions.

“But the evidence was always sketchy and, because of the fragile nature of snowflakes, fleeting. The giant flakes were not quite in the category of sea monsters or U.F.O.’s. Even so, skeptics noted the human fondness for exaggeration, as well as the lack of convincing photographs. And the organizations that compile weather records never made tracking big flakes an observational requirement. So the giants languished in a twilight world of science, their existence claimed but seldom documented.”

Snowflakes can get BIG

Maybe there really was a 15-inch snowflake. Multiple Army officers reported seeing them, as did a nearby rancher in Montana where they fell. But what other evidence could we reasonably expect?

There’s not much restricting the possible size of snowflakes other than the wind. It’s likely that a truly huge flake would be torn apart before anyone could see it.

Yet, if you look back far (and wide) enough in history, there are multiple mentions of abnormally large flakes. These days, anyone with a ruler and a camera could document the world’s biggest snowflake if they wanted to.

According to the NYT:

“William S. Pike, a British weather observer for the Royal Meteorological Society, found 11 poorly known reports, which he described in The Journal of Meteorology in January 1988. He wrote that reliable observers of big flakes estimated their diameters at anywhere from two to six inches.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “Snowflakes as Big as Frisbees?” — New York Times