7 Cool Facts About Snowflakes

You catch them on your tongue. You grumble about shoveling when they cover your driveway. Snowflakes are one of nature’s most interesting creations, thanks to their intricate patterns and ability to completely change a landscape. And there’s much more to them than what meets the eye. Here are seven cool facts you might not know about snowflakes.

1. Snowflakes aren’t really white

Technically speaking, that blanket of white is actually clear. Because snow is composed of translucent ice crystals, it reflects most of the light that touches its surface. This gives it a bright, white appearance to our eyes, according to The Weather Channel. And depending on the environment, it also might take on some other hues. For instance, deep snow can have a blue cast as red light gets trapped and absorbed more readily. And some snow can appear pink due to algae growing in it.

2. Snow is technically a mineral

closeup of hands in red gloves holding a snowballCredit: Alter_photo/Getty Images

Snow can be classified as a mineral, according to the National Snow & Ice Data Center. “A mineral is a naturally occurring homogeneous solid, inorganically formed, with a definite chemical composition and an ordered atomic arrangement,” the center says. Snow is composed of ice crystals, and ice meets those criteria. It’s naturally occurring (not made by humans — freezers don’t count), a single material, formed inorganically (not by an organism) and has an ordered structure. And most of us know its chemical structure: H2O.

3. All snowflakes (probably) are unique

Atmospheric conditions determine a snowflake’s basic shape. “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,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “As the ice crystal falls to the ground, water vapor freezes onto the primary crystal, building new crystals — the six arms of the snowflake.” The various temperatures and humidities that a single crystal experiences as it falls control its formation. So even though some snowflakes might appear the same on the surface, it would be incredibly rare for them to take exactly the same route from the sky and be identical on a molecular level.

4. Nobody really knows why snowflakes are so elaborate

three snowflakes isolated on black backgroundCredit: ChaoticMind75/Getty Images

All snowflakes have six symmetrical sides, thanks to how water molecules arrange themselves as they crystallize. But those intricate, lacy patterns are a bit harder to comprehend. “The general explanation is that snowflakes form in the atmosphere where conditions are very complex and variable,” according to Scientific American. “A crystal might begin to grow in one manner and then minutes or even seconds later something changes (temperature or humidity), so it starts to grow in another manner.” Because the process is so variable, it’s difficult to predict these ornate designs that nature can so effortlessly make.

5. Giant snowflakes could be real

The Guinness Book of World Records says the largest snowflake ever recorded was 15 inches in length, spotted in Montana in 1887. But there’s no absolute evidence to support that claim. Still, giant snowflakes are possible, as the laws of physics don’t necessarily limit them, according to a New York Times report. A typical snowflake is less than half an inch (1.3 centimeters) across, the National Snow & Ice Data Center says. But they can grow larger. “Under certain conditions, usually requiring near-freezing temperatures, light winds, and unstable atmospheric conditions, much larger and irregular flakes can form,” according to the center.

6. Snow makes excellent insulation

groundhog in snow denCredit: BrianEKushner/Getty Images

Animals knew this long before humans: A snow den makes for a very cozy home. “Fresh, uncompacted snow typically is 90 to 95 percent trapped air,” according to the National Snow & Ice Data Center. And because the air can’t move, “heat transfer is greatly reduced.” Consequently, body heat can effectively warm a snow-insulated structure. Thus, even hibernating animals can stay warm all throughout the winter months.

7. Snowflakes aren’t always quiet

Have you ever noticed how quiet it gets during a snowstorm? That isn’t just because people and animals are tucked away in their toasty homes. Snow influences sound in many ways. Fresh, fluffy snow on the ground works to dampen sound waves, according to the National Snow & Ice Data Center. On the contrary, icy snow can reflect sound waves, allowing noises to travel farther and seem louder. And that crunch that occurs as you walk on a snowy surface? It’s the compression and friction of tiny ice grains as they rub against one another.

Main image credit: Andrey Danilovich/Getty Images

95 comments

Leo C
Leo Cabout an hour ago

Thank you for posting!

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danii p
danii pyesterday

Thank you

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danii p
danii pyesterday

Thank you

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danii p
danii pyesterday

Thank you

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Pearl W
Pearl Wyesterday

Hi All - It doesn't snow where I live and it's mid summer - We're having a heatwave and it's been hovering around 100f for the last 3 weeks with more to come - So it's cooling to see and read about snow plus I find trivia cool anytime - Thanks - smiles

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Thomas M
Thomas M4 days ago

Thank you

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danii p
danii p4 days ago

Thanks.

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danii p
danii p4 days ago

Thanks.

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danii p
danii p4 days ago

Thanks.

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Leo C
Leo C5 days ago

Thank you for posting!

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