WTF Fun Fact 13114 – The Eiffel Tower is Taller in Summer

The Eiffel Tower is taller in summer (it also shrinks in the winter). The reason? Thermal expansion (and contraction).

How is the Eiffel Tower taller in summer?

At 330 meters high, you won’t be able to tell just by looking at it that the Eiffel Tower grows by 15 centimeters in the summer. At 132 years old, the Tower spent 42 glorious years as the world’s tallest building. And the structure wasn’t even meant to be permanent.

The Eiffel tower is made of iron, puddled iron (or wrought iron) to be exact. And to be even more precise, it’s puddled iron from the Forges de Pompey near Nancy, France.

At the time, architect Gustave Eiffel had relied heavily on iron and had not worked with steel in any significant way in his architecture. Of course, steel does not change during temperature fluctuations, whereas iron does.

The growing and shrinking Tower

According to the structure’s tourism website (cited below):

“When temperatures rise, the Tower increases in size! This is a natural physical phenomenon called thermal expansion. Heat causes an increase in volume that makes the Eiffel Tower a few centimeters taller. This expansion also causes the Tower to tilt slightly away from the sun. The sun only hits one of the 4 sides of the Tower creating an imbalance with the other 3 sides, that remain stable, thus causing the Eiffel Tower to lean. In this way, the sun’s movement over the course of a clear day can cause the top of the Tower to move in a more or less circular curve measuring approximately 15 centimeters in diameter.”

You probably can’t see it in your photos, but you read that right – the Tower does lean slightly in the summer since the sun only hits one side directly, causing it to expand.

This expansion goes away when the sun isn’t strong.

Thermal contraction is a winter problem. During the cold months, the metal structure shrinks from its normal height.

You might think all this contracting and shrinking causes the iron to become weaker, but the Tower is so large that there’s no risk of cracking. It was also built to withstand wind. In fact, it was designed to sway with the wind (or at least vibrate) to avoid structural damage.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Why does the Eiffel Tower change size?” —

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

WTF Fun Fact 12629 – Pickled Roads

Well, to be fair, we’ve driven on salted roads and sometimes the best we ever got was the need for a car wash afterward. So we believed it when we heard cities use other methods. We just wouldn’t have immediately come up with pickle or beet juice as the alternative.

As it turns out, pickle brine, the wastewater from beet processing, and even beer wastewater are all effective in combating icy roads.

And that’s a good thing because we do know that too much salt is problematic in lots of ways, to us and to the surrounding land. In 2014, a U.S. Geological Survey found that 84% of U.S. streams in the northern part of the country had toxic levels of chloride. And road salt is sodium chloride. These levels peaked during the months when road salt is used. A lot of this salt also ends up in our lakes as it leeches through the land. These are big consequences that we’ll have to deal with soon, somehow. Just think about how well water is going to be affected.

According to Big Think, here’s how road salt works:

1. Salt attracts ice and snow molecules.
2. The salt break the bonds that hold together the ice and snow molecules.

3. This melts the snow, creating a brine consisting of salt and water.
4. The brine spreads, repeating the process as it moves over the road.

Beet wastewater can have the same effect. It contains sugar to lower the temperature of ice. However, the communities that have used it tend to dislike the smell – something it smells like soy sauce or stale coffee. Now, if it smelled like FRESH coffee, we’d be in business!

Pickle juice has some similar smell issues, but all of these alternatives (cheese brine is another) are less corrosive to cars as well.

Want to read more about the alternatives? Check out the source below – it’s pretty interesting to see how we may all use something different based on what’s available to us in our region.  – WTF fun facts

Source: “Why Pickle Brine On Icy Roads Could Be Smarter Than Salt” — Big Think

WTF Fact 12437 – The Speed of Snow

Most snowflakes fall at a speed of 1.5 mph, though some can reach up to 9 mph if they have picked up enough moisture to gain more mass.

Your typical snowflake traveling at a speed of 1.5 mph travels a long way before hitting the ground – 45 minutes to an hour.

Some other fun facts about snow include:

  • Snow is not white, it’s translucent
  • The first ever snowflake photograph was taken in Vermont in 1885
  • Chionophobia is the condition of being afraid of snow (that’s different from simply not liking it, of course)
  • While it can be too warm to snow (of course), it can never be too cold to snow
  • Snow can actually warm you up becase it’s at least 90% trapped air – that’s why animals burrow in the snow for warmth and people can live safely in igloos
  • Each winter in the US, roughly 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (or 1 septillion – that’s 24 zeroes!) fall from the sky

 WTF fun facts 

Source: “10 facts about snow” — Met Office