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Snow-mazing Science!

January 19, 2021

It’s wintertime in Ohio which often means one thing--snow! This frozen wonder falls from the sky when very cold water freezes on particulate matter (dust or pollen) in the atmosphere creating an ice crystal. As it falls towards the ground, more water vapor in the air attaches to the crystal creating the six arms of the snowflake.

Did you ever wonder how the snowflake gets its pattern? It has to do with the temperature of the air. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, at around 23°F they form long needle-like structures, whereas at 5°F they are flatter and plate-like. Every snowflake is unique because even though they may be falling close to each other through the atmosphere towards the ground, no two snowflakes follow the same pattern.

Living in the Great Lakes area, you may have also heard of Lake Effect Snow. As cold air blows across the lakes, the warmer water adds heat and moisture to the atmosphere forming clouds that will eventually bring heavy snow. The direction of the wind determines where the snow will fall. As the wind generally blows from west to east across Lake Erie, Toledo often gets much less snow than areas like Cleveland, Ohio and Buffalo, New York which are at the eastern end of the lake. The next time you are out enjoying this wintery wonder, think about all of the cool science that goes into that snowy show!