What Makes a Snowflake

By: Rhiannon Cook

     Snow is a very defining and special part of winter, whether you’re someone who likes to play in it, or stay inside and watch it fall. It’s cold and beautiful, and either makes the season that much better or worse, depending on where you live or simply by your opinion. And though for most it is a very normal part of the later and beginning quarter of the year, is it common knowledge what goes in to creating snow, or a single snowflake? The Squire did some research and interviewed Mrs. Dietsch, Eisenhower’s Science Department Head, chemistry, and environmental science teacher, about the science behind the creation of a snowflake.

     The simplest fact to begin with would be that a snowflake’s life begins in the sky, within the clouds, where all the factors needed to form the tiny crystals are present. These factors include extremely cold water droplets and dust or pollen particles. The water must attach to the particle so that it has a base to start freezing and forming around. The snowflake continues to grow and form as it falls from the clouds and collects more water vapor.

In order for the water to start freezing, it of course needs to be very cold. What is interesting to learn, is that the temperature and humidity conditions in the sky not only form the flakes, but determine their shapes as well. “20 – 30 degrees give us needle like flakes,” shares Dietsch, “while very cold temperatures produce very flat plate like flakes.” And with the difference in each snowflake’s build, it creates different textures of snow – crunchy snow, snow that sticks together, powdery snow.

     “The intricate shape of a single arm of the snowflake is determined by the atmospheric conditions experienced by the entire crystal as it falls. A crystal might begin to grow arms in one manner, and then minutes or even seconds later, slight changes in the surrounding temperature or humidity cause the crystal to grow in another way,” Dietsch explained. Even the way and where the snowflake falls changes its appearance. This is how snowflakes each get their own unique look.

Next time you get the chance to observe snow falling, or even a singular snowflake up close, think about what happened to create the tiny, cold, crystal, now that you know more about the science behind a snowflake.

Pictures courtesy of Mrs. Dietsch

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