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Fun Facts About Snowflakes

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Watching dancing snowflakes as they come swirling down through the night sky has to be one of the most beautiful sights on this earth.


Of course there is a downside to these beautiful little flakes…  When they combine with a bunch of other little snowflakes they can bring a mighty nation down to its knees when faced with closed airports and freeways.  Or they can provide enjoyment and memories to last a lifetime.  Days spent making snow angels, racing down a mountain on a pair of ski’s, or building the best snowman on the block!

Here are some interesting snowflake facts that you have been dying to know:

Have you ever heard the expression, “It’s so cold it won’t even snow!”  Can it be?  Can it really be too cold to snow?  According to the Farmers’ Almanac, this is a false statement.  The better statement would be, “It can be too cold to snow heavily.”  As long as there is a source of moisture and some way to cool the air, it can snow.  Most heavy snow events happen when air temperature near the ground is at our above 15 degrees Fahrenheit or (-9.4°Celsius). 

Wilson A Bentley from Jericho, Vermont, was an early pioneer in the study and photography of snowflakes.  Because of his fascination and interest with snow he became known as “Snowflake” Bentley.  At the Buffalo Museum of Science located at the University of Buffalo in Buffalo, New York, there is an exhibit called “Bentley Snow Crystal Collection” featuring the work he has done.  He was a farm boy who was mostly home-schooled that had a great interest in nature.  Living in one of the snowiest areas of the country, he spent a lot of time snow.  Bentley photographed snowflakes using “photomicrography,” which is photography done through a microscope.

Photograph of Snow Crystals

Another museum that features the work of Jericho Bentley is located in the Old Red Mill where the Jericho Historical Society has over 5,000-plus snow crystal photomicrographic images that he took during his life.  More that 2,000 of his images are found in his book, “Snow Crystals,” which was published in 1931. 

The American Meteorological Society granted its first ever research grant to “Snowflake” Bentley in 1924 for his 40 years of “extremely patient work.”  He had articles published in highly regarded periodicals such as the National Geographic, Country Life, Popular Mechanics, Monthly Weather Review, and The New Your Times. 

What amazing accomplishments for a young man who had no formal education.

Snowflakes have even had the notarity of being featured on US postage stamps.  Maybe you recall a set of four commemorative snowflake stamps released in 2006.  The four stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service used four original photographs taken by Dr. Kenneth Libbrecht, a professor of physics of Caltech in Pasadena, California.  The photos were taken in Fairbanks, Alaska, Houghton Michigan, and two in Northern Ontario.  Dr. Libbrech has a website that show diagrams of the 35 most common types of snowflakes.  His website, snowcrystals.com has some interesting facts and figures and even information on some great places for “snowflake touring.”  He has also published a number of books about snowflakes.  These books can be found in your local library, at a local bookstore or online websites such as Amazon.com if you would like much more fascinating snowflake information.

Another physicist, Ukichiro Nakaya, who is actually a nuclear physicist, has studied snow crystals, or what we call snowflakes, for many years and was the first person to make artificial snow in 1936.  Because of his developments, it has made it possible to extend ski season all over the world.  Nakaya's real triumph, however, came from growing artificial snow crystals in the laboratory under controlled conditions.  From the study of these artificial snow crystals Nakaya was able to describe the crystal morphology under different environmental conditions, which provides an extremely important clue for understanding the physics of snow crystal formation. A museum has been dedicated to him in Kaga City, Japan, which is about 300 miles west of Tokyo.  The Ukichiro Nakaya Museum of Snow and Ice can be found in Katayamazu in Kaga City.  Other museums that feature snow and snowflakes are found in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan and the Snow Crystals Museum of Asahikawa, which looks like an Austrian Castle.

You would think that if a town named itself Snowflake it would be found in very cold and wintery climates.  Not so.  Snowflake, Arizona is the northernmost community in Arizona’s White Mountains, and actually receives less than a foot of precipitation per year.  However, Snowflake was not named for the winter crystals that fall but after two early Mormon settlers, Erastus Snow and William Flake, who started the community back in 1878. 

In 1611 Johannes Kepler published a short treatise “On the Six-Cornered Snowflake,” which was the first scientific reference to snow crystals. Kepler pondered the question of why snow crystals always exhibit a six-fold symmetry. 

Is it true that no two snowflakes are alike?  Who really knows for sure?  It is indeed extremely unlikely that two complex snowflakes will look exactly alike.  It's so extremely unlikely; in fact, that even if you looked at every one ever made you would not find any exact duplicates.

Catching Snowflakes

Try a little snowflake watching of your own if you live in a cold, winter climate.  What a great way to help children appreciate nature and learn science at the same time.  Instead of going out in a snowstorm and making snowballs and snowmen, you can grab a magnifying glass and check out the little flakes. Go out the next time the snow starts to fall and hold your arm out and watch as the flakes hit your sleeve.  When you see ones that look interesting use your magnifying glass and look at the intrinsically beautiful designs.  Try to remember what they look like and draw simple sketches.  See if you can find two that look alike!  Hint:  If you aren’t seeing very nice crystals after about five minutes, you are probably wasting your time.

All of this time you probably didn’t realize that the little tiny snowflake was so famous! 



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