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CargoNet Di 12 Euro 4000 Lonsdal - Bolna.jpg
Norwegian train plowing through drifted snow
Physical properties
Density (ρ) 0.1–0.8 g/cm3
Mechanical properties
Tensile strengtht)1.5–3.5 kPa [1]
Compressive strength (σc) 3–7 MPa [1]
Thermal properties
Melting temperature (Tm) 0 °C
Thermal conductivity (k) For densities 0.1 to 0.5 g/cm30.05–0.7 W/(K·m)
Electrical properties
Dielectric constant (εr) For dry snow density 0.1 to 0.9 g/cm31–3.2
The physical properties of snow vary considerably from event to event, sample to sample, and over time.

Snow refers to forms of ice crystals that precipitate from the atmosphere (usually from clouds) and undergo changes on the Earth's surface. [2] It pertains to frozen crystalline water throughout its life cycle, starting when, under suitable conditions, the ice crystals form in the atmosphere, increase to millimeter size, precipitate and accumulate on surfaces, then metamorphose in place, and ultimately melt, slide or sublimate away. Snowstorms organize and develop by feeding on sources of atmospheric moisture and cold air. Snowflakes nucleate around particles in the atmosphere by attracting supercooled water droplets, which freeze in hexagonal-shaped crystals. Snowflakes take on a variety of shapes, basic among these are platelets, needles, columns and rime. As snow accumulates into a snowpack, it may blow into drifts. Over time, accumulated snow metamorphoses, by sintering, sublimation and freeze-thaw. Where the climate is cold enough for year-to-year accumulation, a glacier may form. Otherwise, snow typically melts seasonally, causing runoff into streams and rivers and recharging groundwater.

Ice water frozen into the solid state

Ice is water frozen into a solid state. Depending on the presence of impurities such as particles of soil or bubbles of air, it can appear transparent or a more or less opaque bluish-white color.

Sublimation (phase transition) transition of a substance directly from the solid to the gas phase

Sublimation is the transition of a substance directly from the solid to the gas phase, without passing through the intermediate liquid phase. Sublimation is an endothermic process that occurs at temperatures and pressures below a substance's triple point in its phase diagram, which corresponds to the lowest pressure at which the substance can exist as a liquid. The reverse process of sublimation is deposition or desublimation, in which a substance passes directly from a gas to a solid phase. Sublimation has also been used as a generic term to describe a solid-to-gas transition (sublimation) followed by a gas-to-solid transition (deposition). While a transition from liquid to gas is described as evaporation if it occurs below the boiling point of the liquid, and as boiling if it occurs at the boiling point, there is no such distinction within the solid-to-gas transition, which is always described as sublimation.

Snowflake single ice crystal or an aggregation of ice crystals which falls through the Earths atmosphere

A snowflake is a single ice crystal that has achieved a sufficient size, and may have amalgamated with others, then falls through the Earth's atmosphere as snow. Each flake nucleates around a dust particle in supersaturated air masses by attracting supercooled cloud water droplets, which freeze and accrete in crystal form. Complex shapes emerge as the flake moves through differing temperature and humidity zones in the atmosphere, such that individual snowflakes differ in detail from one another, but may be categorized in eight broad classifications and at least 80 individual variants. The main constituent shapes for ice crystals, from which combinations may occur, are needle, column, plate, and rime. Snow appears white in color despite being made of clear ice. This is due to diffuse reflection of the whole spectrum of light by the small crystal facets of the snowflakes.


Major snow-prone areas include the polar regions, the upper half of the Northern Hemisphere and mountainous regions worldwide with sufficient moisture and cold temperatures. In the Southern Hemisphere, snow is confined primarily to mountainous areas, apart from Antarctica. [3]

Polar regions of Earth regions around the Earths geographical poles

The polar regions, also called the frigid zones, of Earth are the regions of the planet that surround its geographical poles, lying within the polar circles. These high latitudes are dominated by Earth's polar ice caps: the northern resting on the Arctic Ocean and the southern on the continent of Antarctica.

Northern Hemisphere half of Earth that is north of the equator

The Northern Hemisphere is the half of Earth that is north of the Equator. For other planets in the Solar System, north is defined as being in the same celestial hemisphere relative to the invariable plane of the solar system as Earth's North Pole.

Southern Hemisphere part of Earth that lies south of the equator

The Southern Hemisphere is the half of Earth that is south of the Equator. It contains all or parts of five continents, four oceans and most of the Pacific Islands in Oceania. Its surface is 80.9% water, compared with 60.7% water in the case of the Northern Hemisphere, and it contains 32.7% of Earth's land.

Snow affects such human activities as transportation: creating the need for keeping roadways, wings, and windows clear; agriculture: providing water to crops and safeguarding livestock; sports such as skiing, snowboarding, and snowmachine travel; and warfare. Snow affects ecosystems, as well, by providing an insulating layer during winter under which plants and animals are able to survive the cold. [1]

Agriculture Cultivation of plants and animals to provide useful products

Agriculture is the science and art of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that enabled people to live in cities. The history of agriculture began thousands of years ago. After gathering wild grains beginning at least 105,000 years ago, nascent farmers began to plant them around 11,500 years ago. Pigs, sheep and cattle were domesticated over 10,000 years ago. Plants were independently cultivated in at least 11 regions of the world. Industrial agriculture based on large-scale monoculture in the twentieth century came to dominate agricultural output, though about 2 billion people still depended on subsistence agriculture into the twenty-first.

Sport forms of competitive activity, usually physical

Sport includes all forms of competitive physical activity or games which, through casual or organised participation, aim to use, maintain or improve physical ability and skills while providing enjoyment to participants, and in some cases, entertainment for spectators. Hundreds of sports exist, from those between single contestants, through to those with hundreds of simultaneous participants, either in teams or competing as individuals. In certain sports such as racing, many contestants may compete, simultaneously or consecutively, with one winner; in others, the contest is between two sides, each attempting to exceed the other. Some sports allow a "tie" or "draw", in which there is no single winner; others provide tie-breaking methods to ensure one winner and one loser. A number of contests may be arranged in a tournament producing a champion. Many sports leagues make an annual champion by arranging games in a regular sports season, followed in some cases by playoffs.

Skiing Recreational activity and sport using skis

Skiing can be a means of transport, a recreational activity or a competitive winter sport in which the participant uses skis to glide on snow. Many types of competitive skiing events are recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the International Ski Federation (FIS).


Worldwide occurrence of snowfall. Snow at reference above sea level (meters):
Below 500: annually.
Below 500: annually, but not in all of its territory.
500: above annually, below occasionally.
Above 500: annually.
Above 2,000: annually.
Any elevation: none. Countries receiving snowfall.png
Worldwide occurrence of snowfall. Snow at reference above sea level (meters):
  Below 500: annually.
  Below 500: annually, but not in all of its territory.
  500: above annually, below occasionally.
  Above 500: annually.
  Above 2,000: annually.
  Any elevation: none.

Snow develops in clouds that themselves are part of a larger weather system. The physics of snow crystal development in clouds results from a complex set of variables that include moisture content and temperatures. The resulting shapes of the falling and fallen crystals can be classified into a number of basic shapes and combinations, thereof. Occasionally, some plate-like, dendritic and stellar-shaped snowflakes can form under clear sky with a very cold temperature inversion present. [4]

Cloud formation

Snow clouds usually occur in the context of larger weather systems, the most important of which is the low pressure area, which typically incorporate warm and cold fronts as part of their circulation. Two additional and locally productive sources of snow are lake-effect (also sea-effect) storms and elevation effects, especially in mountains.

Low pressure areas

Extratropical cyclonic snowstorm, February 24, 2007--(Click for animation.) Feb242007 blizzard.gif
Extratropical cyclonic snowstorm, February 24, 2007—(Click for animation.)

Mid-latitude cyclones are low pressure areas which are capable of producing anything from cloudiness and mild snow storms to heavy blizzards. [5] During a hemisphere's fall, winter, and spring, the atmosphere over continents can be cold enough through the depth of the troposphere to cause snowfall. In the Northern Hemisphere, the northern side of the low pressure area produces the most snow. [6] For the southern mid-latitudes, the side of a cyclone that produces the most snow is the southern side.

Extratropical cyclone type of cyclone

Extratropical cyclones, sometimes called mid-latitude cyclones or wave cyclones, are low-pressure areas which, along with the anticyclones of high-pressure areas, drive the weather over much of the Earth. Extratropical cyclones are capable of producing anything from cloudiness and mild showers to heavy gales, thunderstorms, blizzards, and tornadoes. These types of cyclones are defined as large scale (synoptic) low pressure weather systems that occur in the middle latitudes of the Earth. In contrast with tropical cyclones, extratropical cyclones produce rapid changes in temperature and dew point along broad lines, called weather fronts, about the center of the cyclone.

Low-pressure area region where the atmospheric pressure is lower than that of surrounding locations

A low-pressure area, low, depression or cyclone is a region on the topographic map where the atmospheric pressure is lower than that of surrounding locations. Low-pressure systems form under areas of wind divergence that occur in the upper levels of the troposphere. The formation process of a low-pressure area is known as cyclogenesis. Within the field of meteorology, atmospheric divergence aloft occurs in two areas. The first area is on the east side of upper troughs, which form half of a Rossby wave within the Westerlies. A second area of wind divergence aloft occurs ahead of embedded shortwave troughs, which are of smaller wavelength. Diverging winds aloft ahead of these troughs cause atmospheric lift within the troposphere below, which lowers surface pressures as upward motion partially counteracts the force of gravity.

Blizzard type of snowstorm

A blizzard is a severe snowstorm characterized by strong sustained winds of at least 35 mph (56 km/h) and lasting for a prolonged period of time—typically three hours or more. A ground blizzard is a weather condition where snow is not falling but loose snow on the ground is lifted and blown by strong winds. Blizzards can have an immense size and usually stretch to hundreds or thousands of kilometres.


Frontal snowsquall moving toward Boston, Massachusetts Snowsquall line-Bourrasque neige frontal NOAA.png
Frontal snowsquall moving toward Boston, Massachusetts

A cold front, the leading edge of a cooler mass of air, can produce frontal snowsqualls—an intense frontal convective line (similar to a rainband), when temperature is near freezing at the surface. The strong convection that develops has enough moisture to produce whiteout conditions at places which line passes over as the wind causes intense blowing snow. [7] This type of snowsquall generally lasts less than 30 minutes at any point along its path but the motion of the line can cover large distances. Frontal squalls may form a short distance ahead of the surface cold front or behind the cold front where there may be a deepening low pressure system or a series of trough lines which act similar to a traditional cold frontal passage. In situations where squalls develop post-frontally it is not unusual to have two or three linear squall bands pass in rapid succession only separated by 25 miles (40 kilometers) with each passing the same point in roughly 30 minutes apart. In cases where there is a large amount of vertical growth and mixing the squall may develop embedded cumulonimbus clouds resulting in lightning and thunder which is dubbed thundersnow.

Cold front leading edge of a cooler mass of air

A cold front is the leading edge of a cooler mass of air, replacing at ground level a warmer mass of air, which lies within a fairly sharp surface trough of low pressure. It forms in the wake of an extratropical cyclone, at the leading edge of its cold air advection pattern, which is also known as the cyclone's dry conveyor belt circulation. Temperature changes across the boundary can exceed 30 °C (54 °F). When enough moisture is present, rain can occur along the boundary. If there is significant instability along the boundary, a narrow line of thunderstorms can form along the frontal zone. If instability is less, a broad shield of rain can move in behind the front, which increases the temperature difference across the boundary. Cold fronts are stronger in the fall and spring transition seasons and weakest during the summer.


A rainband is a cloud and precipitation structure associated with an area of rainfall which is significantly elongated. Rainbands can be stratiform or convective, and are generated by differences in temperature. When noted on weather radar imagery, this precipitation elongation is referred to as banded structure. Rainbands within tropical cyclones are curved in orientation. Tropical cyclone rainbands contain showers and thunderstorms that, together with the eyewall and the eye, constitute a hurricane or tropical storm. The extent of rainbands around a tropical cyclone can help determine the cyclone's intensity.

Temperature physical property of matter that quantitatively expresses the common notions of hot and cold

Temperature is a physical quantity expressing hot and cold. It is measured with a thermometer calibrated in one or more temperature scales. The most commonly used scales are the Celsius scale, Fahrenheit scale, and Kelvin scale. The kelvin is the unit of temperature in the International System of Units (SI), in which temperature is one of the seven fundamental base quantities. The Kelvin scale is widely used in science and technology.

A warm front can produce snow for a period, as warm, moist air overrides below-freezing air and creates precipitation at the boundary. Often, snow transitions to rain in the warm sector behind the front. [7]

Lake and ocean effects

Cold northwesterly wind over Lake Superior and Lake Michigan creating lake-effect snowfall Lake Effect Snow on Earth.jpg
Cold northwesterly wind over Lake Superior and Lake Michigan creating lake-effect snowfall

Lake-effect snow is produced during cooler atmospheric conditions when a cold air mass moves across long expanses of warmer lake water, warming the lower layer of air which picks up water vapor from the lake, rises up through the colder air above, freezes and is deposited on the leeward (downwind) shores. [8] [9]

The same effect also occurs over bodies of salt water, when it is termed ocean-effect or bay-effect snow. The effect is enhanced when the moving air mass is uplifted by the orographic influence of higher elevations on the downwind shores. This uplifting can produce narrow but very intense bands of precipitation, which deposit at a rate of many inches of snow each hour, often resulting in a large amount of total snowfall. [10]

The areas affected by lake-effect snow are called snowbelts. These include areas east of the Great Lakes, the west coasts of northern Japan, the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, and areas near the Great Salt Lake, Black Sea, Caspian Sea, Baltic Sea, and parts of the northern Atlantic Ocean. [11]

Mountain effects

Orographic or relief snowfall is caused when masses of air pushed by wind are forced up the side of elevated land formations, such as large mountains. The lifting of air up the side of a mountain or range results in adiabatic cooling, and ultimately condensation and precipitation. Moisture is removed by orographic lift, leaving drier, warmer air on the descending, leeward side. [12] The resulting enhanced productivity of snow fall [13] and the decrease in temperature with elevation [14] means that snow depth and seasonal persistence of snowpack increases with elevation in snow-prone areas. [1] [15]

Cloud physics

Freshly fallen snowflakes Feathery Snow Crystals (2217830221).jpg
Freshly fallen snowflakes

A snowflake consists of roughly 1019 water molecules, which are added to its core at different rates and in different patterns, depending on the changing temperature and humidity within the atmosphere that the snowflake falls through on its way to the ground. As a result, snowflakes vary among themselves, while following similar patterns. [16] [17] [18]

Snow crystals form when tiny supercooled cloud droplets (about 10  μm in diameter) freeze. These droplets are able to remain liquid at temperatures lower than −18 °C (0 °F), because to freeze, a few molecules in the droplet need to get together by chance to form an arrangement similar to that in an ice lattice. Then the droplet freezes around this "nucleus". In warmer clouds an aerosol particle or "ice nucleus" must be present in (or in contact with) the droplet to act as a nucleus. Ice nuclei are very rare compared to that cloud condensation nuclei on which liquid droplets form. Clays, desert dust and biological particles can be nuclei. [19] Artificial nuclei include particles of silver iodide and dry ice, and these are used to stimulate precipitation in cloud seeding. [20]

Once a droplet has frozen, it grows in the supersaturated environment—one where air is saturated with respect to ice when the temperature is below the freezing point. The droplet then grows by diffusion of water molecules in the air (vapor) onto the ice crystal surface where they are collected. Because water droplets are so much more numerous than the ice crystals due to their sheer abundance, the crystals are able to grow to hundreds of micrometers or millimeters in size at the expense of the water droplets by the Wegener–Bergeron–Findeisen process. The corresponding depletion of water vapor causes the ice crystals to grow at the droplets' expense. These large crystals are an efficient source of precipitation, since they fall through the atmosphere due to their mass, and may collide and stick together in clusters, or aggregates. These aggregates are snowflakes, and are usually the type of ice particle that falls to the ground. [21] Although the ice is clear, scattering of light by the crystal facets and hollows/imperfections mean that the crystals often appear white in color due to diffuse reflection of the whole spectrum of light by the small ice particles. [22]

Classification of snowflakes

An early classification of snowflakes by Israel Perkins Warren Snowflakeschapte00warriala-p11-p21-p29-p39.jpg
An early classification of snowflakes by Israel Perkins Warren

Micrography of thousands of snowflakes from 1885 onward, starting with Wilson Alwyn Bentley, revealed the wide diversity of snowflakes within a classifiable set of patterns. [24] Closely matching snow crystals have been observed. [25]

Nakaya developed a crystal morphology diagram, relating crystal shapes to the temperature and moisture conditions under which they formed, which is summarized in the following table. [1]

Crystal structure morphology as a function of temperature and water saturation
Temperature rangeSaturation rangeTypes of snow crystal
°C°Fg/m3oz/cu ydbelow saturationabove saturation
0 to −3.532 to 260.0 to 0.50.000 to 0.013Solid platesThin plates


−3.5 to −1026 to 140.5 to 1.20.013 to 0.032Solid prisms

Hollow prisms

Hollow prisms


−10 to −2214 to −81.2 to 1.40.032 to 0.038Thin plates

Solid plates

Sectored plates


−22 to −40−8 to −401.2 to 0.10.0324 to 0.0027Thin plates

Solid plates



As Nakaya discovered, shape is also a function of whether the prevalent moisture is above or below saturation. Forms below the saturation line trend more towards solid and compact. Crystals formed in supersaturated air trend more towards lacy, delicate and ornate. Many more complex growth patterns also form such as side-planes, bullet-rosettes and also planar types depending on the conditions and ice nuclei. [26] [27] [28] If a crystal has started forming in a column growth regime, at around −5 °C (23 °F), and then falls into the warmer plate-like regime, then plate or dendritic crystals sprout at the end of the column, producing so called "capped columns". [21]

Magono and Lee devised a classification of freshly formed snow crystals that includes 80 distinct shapes. They documented each with micrographs. [29]


An animation of seasonal snow changes, based on satellite imagery Earth-satellite-seasons.gif
An animation of seasonal snow changes, based on satellite imagery

Snow accumulates from a series of snow events, punctuated by freezing and thawing, over areas that are cold enough to retain snow seasonally or perennially. Major snow-prone areas include the Arctic and Antarctic, the Northern Hemisphere, and alpine regions. The liquid equivalent of snowfall may be evaluated using a snow gauge [30] or with a standard rain gauge, adjusted for winter by removal of a funnel and inner cylinder. [31] Both types of gauges melt the accumulated snow and report the amount of water collected. [32] At some automatic weather stations an ultrasonic snow depth sensor may be used to augment the precipitation gauge. [33]

Snow events

Snow flurry, snow storm and blizzard describe snow events of progressively greater duration and intensity. [34] A blizzard is a weather condition involving snow and has varying definitions in different parts of the world. In the United States, a blizzard occurs when two conditions are met for a period of three hours or more: A sustained wind or frequent gusts to 35 miles per hour (56 km/h), and sufficient snow in the air to reduce visibility to less than 0.4 kilometers (0.25 mi). [35] In Canada and the United Kingdom, the criteria are similar. [36] [37] While heavy snowfall often occurs during blizzard conditions, falling snow is not a requirement, as blowing snow can create a ground blizzard. [38]

Snowstorm intensity may be categorized by visibility and depth of accumulation. [39] Snowfall's intensity is determined by visibility, as follows: [40]

The International Classification for Seasonal Snow on the Ground defines "height of new snow" as the depth of freshly fallen snow, in centimeters as measured with a ruler, that accumulated on a snowboard during an observation period of 24 hours, or other observation interval. After the measurement, the snow is cleared from the board and the board is placed flush with the snow surface to provide an accurate measurement at the end of the next interval. [4] Melting, compacting, blowing and drifting contribute to the difficulty of measuring snowfall. [41]


Glaciers with their permanent snowpacks cover about 10% of the earth's surface, while seasonal snow covers about nine percent, [1] mostly in the Northern Hemisphere, where seasonal snow covers about 40 million square kilometres (15×10^6 sq mi), according to a 1987 estimate. [42] A 2007 estimate of snow cover over the Northern Hemisphere suggested that, on average, snow cover ranges from a minimum extent of 2 million square kilometres (0.77×10^6 sq mi) each August to a maximum extent of 45 million square kilometres (17×10^6 sq mi) each January or nearly half of the land surface in that hemisphere. [43] [44] A study of Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent for the period 1972–2006 suggests a reduction of 0.5 million square kilometres (0.19×10^6 sq mi) over the 35-year period. [44]


The following are world records regarding snowfall and snowflakes:


Fresh snow beginning to metamorphose: The surface shows wind packing and sastrugi. In the foreground are hoar frost crystals, formed by refrozen water vapor emerging to the cold surface. Sparkling-snow.crystals.jpg
Fresh snow beginning to metamorphose: The surface shows wind packing and sastrugi. In the foreground are hoar frost crystals, formed by refrozen water vapor emerging to the cold surface.

After deposition, snow progresses on one of two paths that determine its fate, either ablation (mostly by melting) or transitioning from firn (multi-year snow) into glacier ice. During this transition, snow "is a highly porous, sintered material made up of a continuous ice structure and a continuously connected pore space, forming together the snow microstructure". Almost always near its melting temperature, a snowpack is continually transforming these properties in a process, known as metamorphism, wherein all three phases of water may coexist, including liquid water partially filling the pore space. [4] Starting as a powdery deposition, snow becomes more granular when it begins to compact under its own weight, be blown by the wind, sinter particles together and commence the cycle of melting and refreezing. Water vapor plays a role as it deposits ice crystals, known as hoar frost, during cold, still conditions. [49]

Seasonal snowpack

Over the course of time, a snowpack may settle under its own weight until its density is approximately 30% of water. Increases in density above this initial compression occur primarily by melting and refreezing, caused by temperatures above freezing or by direct solar radiation. In colder climates, snow lies on the ground all winter. By late spring, snow densities typically reach a maximum of 50% of water. [50] Snow that persists into summer evolves into névé, granular snow, which has been partially melted, refrozen and compacted. Névé has a minimum density of 500 kilograms per cubic metre (31 lb/cu ft), which is roughly half of the density of liquid water. [51]


Firn--metamorphosed multi-year snow Firn field on the top of Sauleck.jpg
Firn—metamorphosed multi-year snow

Firn is snow that has persisted for multiple years and has been recrystallized into a substance denser than névé, yet less dense and hard than glacial ice. Firn resembles caked sugar and is very resistant to shovelling. Its density generally ranges from 550 kilograms per cubic metre (34 lb/cu ft) to 830 kilograms per cubic metre (52 lb/cu ft), and it can often be found underneath the snow that accumulates at the head of a glacier. The minimum altitude that firn accumulates on a glacier is called the firn limit, firn line or snowline. [1] [52]


There are four main mechanisms for movement of deposited snow: drifting of unsintered snow, avalanches of accumulated snow on steep slopes, snowmelt during thaw conditions, and the movement of glaciers after snow has persisted for multiple years and metamorphosed into glacier ice.


Snow drifts forming around downwind obstructions Long Mynd snowdrift.jpeg
Snow drifts forming around downwind obstructions

When powdery, snow drifts with the wind from the location where it originally fell, [53] forming deposits with a depth of several meters in isolated locations. [54] After attaching to hillsides, blown snow can evolve into a snow slab, which is an avalanche hazard on steep slopes. [55]


A powder snow avalanche 2007-02-15-CLB-Couloir2-1c.JPG
A powder snow avalanche

An avalanche (also called a snowslide or snowslip) is a rapid flow of snow down a sloping surface. Avalanches are typically triggered in a starting zone from a mechanical failure in the snowpack (slab avalanche) when the forces on the snow exceed its strength but sometimes only with gradually widening (loose snow avalanche). After initiation, avalanches usually accelerate rapidly and grow in mass and volume as they entrain more snow. If the avalanche moves fast enough some of the snow may mix with the air forming a powder snow avalanche, which is a type of gravity current. They occur in three major mechanisms: [55]


Snowmelt-induced flooding of the Red River of the North in 1997 1997 Red River Flood Grand Forks.jpg
Snowmelt-induced flooding of the Red River of the North in 1997

Many rivers originating in mountainous or high-latitude regions receive a significant portion of their flow from snowmelt. This often makes the river's flow highly seasonal resulting in periodic flooding [56] during the spring months and at least in dry mountainous regions like the mountain West of the US or most of Iran and Afghanistan, very low flow for the rest of the year. In contrast, if much of the melt is from glaciated or nearly glaciated areas, the melt continues through the warm season, with peak flows occurring in mid to late summer. [57]


Glaciers form where the accumulation of snow and ice exceeds ablation. The area in which an alpine glacier forms is called a cirque (corrie or cwm), a typically armchair-shaped geological feature, which collects snow and where the snowpack compacts under the weight of successive layers of accumulating snow, forming névé. Further crushing of the individual snow crystals and reduction of entrapped air in the snow turns it into glacial ice. This glacial ice will fill the cirque until it overflows through a geological weakness or an escape route, such as the gap between two mountains. When the mass of snow and ice is sufficiently thick, it begins to move due to a combination of surface slope, gravity and pressure. On steeper slopes, this can occur with as little as 15 m (50 ft) of snow-ice. [1]

Snow science

Scientists study snow at a wide variety of scales that include the physics of chemical bonds and clouds; the distribution, accumulation, metamorphosis, and ablation of snowpacks; and the contribution of snowmelt to river hydraulics and ground hydrology. In doing so, they employ a variety of instruments to observe and measure the phenomena studied. Their findings contribute to knowledge applied by engineers, who adapt vehicles and structures to snow, by agronomists, who address the availability of snowmelt to agriculture, and those, who design equipment for sporting activities on snow. Scientists develop and others employ snow classification systems that describe its physical properties at scales ranging from the individual crystal to the aggregated snowpack. A sub-specialty is avalanches, which are of concern to engineers and outdoors sports people, alike.

Snow science addresses how snow forms, its distribution, and processes affecting how snowpacks change over time. Scientists improve storm forecasting, study global snow cover and its effect on climate, glaciers, and water supplies around the world. The study includes physical properties of the material as it changes, bulk properties of in-place snow packs, and the aggregate properties of regions with snow cover. In doing so, they employ on-the-ground physical measurement techniques to establish ground truth and remote sensing techniques to develop understanding of snow-related processes over large areas. [58]

Measurement and classification

In the field snow scientists often excavate a snow pit within which to make basic measurements and observations. Observations can describe features caused by wind, water percolation, or snow unloading from trees.Water percolation into a snowpack can create flow fingers and ponding or flow along capillary barriers, which can refreeze into horizontal and vertical solid ice formations within the snowpack. Among the measurements of the properties of snowpacks that the International Classification for Seasonal Snow on the Ground includes are: snow height, snow water equivalent, snow strength, and extent of snow cover. Each has a designation with code and detailed description. The classification extends the prior classifications of Nakaya and his successors to related types of precipitation and are quoted in the following table: [4]

Snow pit on the surface of a glacier, profiling snow properties where the snow becomes increasingly dense with depth as it metamorphoses towards ice Taku glacier firn ice sampling.png
Snow pit on the surface of a glacier, profiling snow properties where the snow becomes increasingly dense with depth as it metamorphoses towards ice
Frozen precipitation particles, related to snow crystals
SubclassShapePhysical process
Graupel Heavily rimed particles, spherical, conical,

hexagonal or irregular in shape

Heavy riming of particles by

accretion of supercooled water droplets

Hail Laminar internal structure, translucent

or milky glazed surface

Growth by accretion of

supercooled water, size: >5 mm

Ice pellets Transparent,

mostly small spheroids

Freezing of raindrops or refreezing of largely melted snow crystals or snowflakes (sleet).

Graupel or snow pellets encased in thin ice layer (small hail). Size: both 5 mm

Rime Irregular deposits or longer cones and

needles pointing into the wind

Accretion of small, supercooled fog droplets frozen in place.

Thin breakable crust forms on snow surface if process continues long enough.

All are formed in cloud, except for rime, which forms on objects exposed to supercooled moisture.

It also has a more extensive classification of deposited snow than those that pertain to airborne snow. The categories include both natural and man-made snow types, descriptions of snow crystals as they metamorphose and melt, the development of hoar frost in the snow pack and the formation of ice therein. Each such layer of a snowpack differs from the adjacent layers by one or more characteristics that describe its microstructure or density, which together define the snow type, and other physical properties. Thus, at any one time, the type and state of the snow forming a layer have to be defined because its physical and mechanical properties depend on them. Physical properties include microstructure, grain size and shape, snow density, liquid water content, and temperature. [4]

Satellite data

Remote sensing of snowpacks with satellites and other platforms typically includes multi-spectral collection of imagery. Multi-faceted interpretation of the data obtained allows inferences about what is observed. The science behind these remote observations has been verified with ground-truth studies of the actual conditions. [1]

Satellite observations record a decrease in snow-covered areas since the 1960s, when satellite observations began. In some regions such as China, a trend of increasing snow cover was observed from 1978 to 2006. These changes are attributed to global climate change, which may lead to earlier melting and less coverage area. However, in some areas there may be an increase in snow depth because of higher temperatures for latitudes north of 40°. For the Northern Hemisphere as a whole the mean monthly snow-cover extent has been decreasing by 1.3% per decade. [59]

The most frequently used methods to map and measure snow extent, snow depth and snow water equivalent employ multiple inputs on the visible–infrared spectrum to deduce the presence and properties of snow. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) uses the reflectance of visible and infrared radiation to calculate a normalized difference snow index, which is a ratio of radiation parameters that can distinguish between clouds and snow. Other researchers have developed decision trees, employing the available data to make more accurate assessments. One challenge to this assessment is where snow cover is patchy, for example during periods of accumulation or ablation and also in forested areas. Cloud cover inhibits optical sensing of surface reflectance, which has led to other methods for estimating ground conditions underneath clouds. For hydrological models, it is important to have continuous information about the snow cover. Passive microwave sensors are especially valuable for temporal and spatial continuity because they can map the surface beneath clouds and in darkness. When combined with reflective measurements, passive microwave sensing greatly extends the inferences possible about the snowpack. [59]


Snowfall and snowmelt are parts of the Earth's water cycle. Watercyclesummary.jpg
Snowfall and snowmelt are parts of the Earth's water cycle.

Snow science often leads to predictive models that include snow deposition, snow melt, and snow hydrology—elements of the Earth's water cycle—which help describe global climate change. [1]

Global climate change models (GCMs) incorporate snow as a factor in their calculations. Some important aspects of snow cover include its albedo (reflectivity of incident radiation, including light) and insulating qualities, which slow the rate of seasonal melting of sea ice. As of 2011, the melt phase of GCM snow models were thought to perform poorly in regions with complex factors that regulate snow melt, such as vegetation cover and terrain. These models typically derive snow water equivalent (SWE) in some manner from satellite observations of snow cover. [1] The International Classification for Seasonal Snow on the Ground defines SWE as "the depth of water that would result if the mass of snow melted completely". [4]

Given the importance of snowmelt to agriculture, hydrological runoff models that include snow in their predictions address the phases of accumulating snowpack, melting processes, and distribution of the meltwater through stream networks and into the groundwater. Key to describing the melting processes are solar heat flux, ambient temperature, wind, and precipitation. Initial snowmelt models used a degree-day approach that emphasized the temperature difference between the air and the snowpack to compute snow water equivalent, SWE. More recent models use an energy balance approach that take into account the following factors to compute Qm, the energy available for melt. This requires measurement of an array of snowpack and environmental factors to compute six heat flow mechanisms that contribute to Qm. [1]

Effects on human activity

Snow affects human activity in four major areas, transportation, agriculture, structures, and sports. Most transportation modes are impeded by snow on the travel surface. Agriculture often relies on snow as a source of seasonal moisture. Structures may fail under snow loads. Humans find a wide variety of recreational activities in snowy landscapes.


Snow affects the rights of way of highways, airfields and railroads. They share a common tool for clearing snow, the snowplow. However, the application is different in each case—whereas roadways employ anti-icing chemicals to prevent bonding of ice, airfields may not; railroads rely on abrasives to enhance traction on tracks.


Traffic stranded in a 2011 Chicago snowstorm. Cars covered in Snow on Lake Shore Drive Chicago Feb 2 2011 storm.JPG
Traffic stranded in a 2011 Chicago snowstorm.
Winter conditions on Ontario Highway 401 in Toronto due to a snowsquall. Snowy Higddhway 4012.jpg
Winter conditions on Ontario Highway 401 in Toronto due to a snowsquall.

In the late 20th century, an estimated $2 billion was spent annually in North America on roadway winter maintenance, owing to snow and other winter weather events, according to a 1994 report by Kuemmel. The study surveyed the practices of jurisdictions within 44 US states and nine Canadian provinces. It assessed the policies, practices, and equipment used for winter maintenance. It found similar practices and progress to be prevalent in Europe. [60]

The dominant effect of snow on vehicle contact with the road is diminished friction. This can be improved with the use of snow tires, which have a tread designed to compact snow in a manner that enhances traction. However, the key to maintaining a roadway that can accommodate traffic during and after a snow event is an effective anti-icing program that employs both chemicals and plowing. [60] The FHWA Manual of Practice for an Effective Anti-icing Program emphasizes "anti-icing" procedures that prevent the bonding of snow and ice to the road. Key aspects of the practice include: understanding anti-icing in light of the level of service to be achieved on a given roadway, the climatic conditions to be encountered, and the different roles of deicing, anti-icing, and abrasive materials and applications, and employing anti-icing "toolboxes", one for operations, one for decision-making and another for personnel. The elements to the toolboxes are: [61]

  • Operations – Addresses the application of solid and liquid chemicals, using various techniques, including prewetting of chloride-salts. It also addresses plowing capability, including types of snowplows and blades used.
  • Decision-making – Combines weather forecast information with road information to assess the upcoming needs for application of assets and the evaluation of treatment effectiveness with operations underway.
  • Personnel – Addresses training and deployment of staff to effectively execute the anti-icing program, using the appropriate materials, equipment and procedures.

The manual offers matrices that address different types of snow and the rate of snowfall to tailor applications appropriately and efficiently.

Snow fences, constructed upwind of roadways control snow drifting by causing windblown, drifting snow to accumulate in a desired place. They are also used on railways. Additionally, farmers and ranchers use snow fences to create drifts in basins for a ready supply of water in the spring. [62] [63]


Deicing an aircraft during a snow event 2008 aircraft deicing at gate.jpg
Deicing an aircraft during a snow event

In order to keep airports open during winter storms, runways and taxiways require snow removal. Unlike roadways, where chloride chemical treatment is common to prevent snow from bonding to the pavement surface, such chemicals are typically banned from airports because of their strong corrosive effect on aluminum aircraft. Consequently, mechanical brushes are often used to complement the action of snow plows. Given the width of runways on airfields that handle large aircraft, vehicles with large plow blades, an echelon of plow vehicles or rotary snowplows are used to clear snow on runways and taxiways. Terminal aprons may require 6 hectares (15 acres) or more to be cleared. [64]

Properly equipped aircraft are able to fly through snowstorms under Instrument flight rules. Prior to takeoff, during snowstorms they require deicing fluid to prevent accumulation and freezing of snow and other precipitation on wings and fuselages, which may compromise the safety of the aircraft and its occupants. [65] In flight, aircraft rely on a variety of mechanisms to avoid rime and other types of icing in clouds, [66] these include pulsing pneumatic boots, electro-thermal areas that generate heat, and fluid deicers that bleed onto the surface. [67]


Railroads have traditionally employed two types of snow plows for clearing track, the wedge plow, which casts snow to both sides, and the rotary snowplow, which is suited for addressing heavy snowfall and casting snow far to one side or the other. Prior to the invention of the rotary snowplow ca. 1865, it required multiple locomotives to drive a wedge plow through deep snow. Subsequent to clearing the track with such plows, a "flanger" is used to clear snow from between the rails that are below the reach of the other types of plow. Where icing may affect the steel-to-steel contact of locomotive wheels on track, abrasives (typically sand) have been used to provide traction on steeper uphills. [68]

Railroads employ snow sheds—structures that cover the track—to prevent the accumulation of heavy snow or avalanches to cover tracks in snowy mountainous areas, such as the Alps and the Rocky Mountains. [69]

Snowplows for different transportation modes

Snow roads and runways

Snow can be compacted to form a snow road and be part of a winter road route for vehicles to access isolated communities or construction projects during the winter. [70] Snow can also be used to provide the supporting structure and surface for a runway, as with the Phoenix Airfield in Antarctica. The snow-compacted runway is designed to withstand approximately 60 wheeled flights of heavy-lift military aircraft a year. [71]


Satellite view of the Indus River, showing snow in the Himalayas, which feeds it, and green areas that draw on it for irrigation Indus.A2002274.0610.1km.jpg
Satellite view of the Indus River, showing snow in the Himalayas, which feeds it, and green areas that draw on it for irrigation

Snowfall can be beneficial to agriculture by serving as a thermal insulator, conserving the heat of the Earth and protecting crops from subfreezing weather. Some agricultural areas depend on an accumulation of snow during winter that will melt gradually in spring, providing water for crop growth, both directly and via runoff through streams and rivers, which supply irrigation canals. [1] The following are examples of rivers that rely on meltwater from glaciers or seasonal snowpack as an important part of their flow on which irrigation depends: the Ganges, many of whose tributaries rise in the Himalayas and which provide much irrigation in northeast India, [72] the Indus River, which rises in Tibet [73] and provides irrigation water to Pakistan from rapidly retreating Tibetan glaciers, [74] and the Colorado River, which receives much of its water from seasonal snowpack in the Rocky Mountains [75] and provides irrigation water to some 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares). [76]


Snow accumulation on building roofs Hoedhuette.jpg
Snow accumulation on building roofs

Snow is an important consideration for loads on structures. To address these, European countries employ Eurocode 1: Actions on structures - Part 1-3: General actions - Snow loads. [77] In North America, ASCE Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures gives guidance on snow loads. [78] Both standards employ methods that translate maximum expected ground snow loads onto design loads for roofs.


Icings resulting from meltwater at the bottom of the snow pack on the roof, flowing and refreezing at the eave as icicles and from leaking into the wall via an ice dam. Ice dam and roof leakage.jpg
Icings resulting from meltwater at the bottom of the snow pack on the roof, flowing and refreezing at the eave as icicles and from leaking into the wall via an ice dam.

Snow loads and icings are two principal issues for roofs. Snow loads are related to the climate in which a structure is sited. Icings are usually a result of the building or structure generating heat that melts the snow that is on it.

Snow loads – The Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures gives guidance on how to translate the following factors into roof snow loads: [78]

  • Ground snow loads
  • Exposure of the roof
  • Thermal properties of the roof
  • Shape of the roof
  • Drifting
  • Importance of the building

It gives tables for ground snow loads by region and a methodology for computing ground snow loads that may vary with elevation from nearby, measured values. The Eurocode 1 uses similar methodologies, starting with ground snow loads that are tabulated for portions of Europe. [77]

Icings – Roofs must also be designed to avoid ice dams, which result from meltwater running under the snow on the roof and freezing at the eave. Ice dams on roofs form when accumulated snow on a sloping roof melts and flows down the roof, under the insulating blanket of snow, until it reaches below freezing temperature air, typically at the eaves. When the meltwater reaches the freezing air, ice accumulates, forming a dam, and snow that melts later cannot drain properly through the dam. [79] Ice dams may result in damaged building materials or in damage or injury when the ice dam falls off or from attempts to remove ice dams. The melting results from heat passing through the roof under the highly insulating layer of snow. [80] [81]

Utility lines

In areas with trees, utility distribution lines on poles are less susceptible to snow loads than they are subject to damage from trees falling on them, felled by heavy, wet snow. [82] Elsewhere, snow can accrete on power lines as "sleeves" of rime ice. Engineers design for such loads, which are measured in kg/m (lb/ft) and power companies have forecasting systems that anticipate types of weather that may cause such accretions. Rime ice may be removed manually or by creating a sufficient short circuit in the affected segment of power lines to melt the accretions. [83] [84]

Sports and recreation

Alpine skiing. Ski Famille - Family Ski Holidays.jpg
Alpine skiing.

Snow figures into many winter sports and forms of recreation, including skiing and sledding. Common examples include cross-country skiing, Alpine skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. The design of the equipment used, typically relies on the bearing strength of snow, as with skis or snowboards and contends with the coefficient of friction of snow to allow sliding, often enhance by ski waxes.

Skiing is by far the largest form of winter recreation. As of 1994, of the estimated 65–75 million skiers worldwide, there were approximately 55 million who engaged in Alpine skiing, the rest engaged in cross-country skiing. Approximately 30 million skiers (of all kinds) were in Europe, 15 million in the US, and 14 million in Japan. As of 1996, there were reportedly 4,500 ski areas, operating 26,000 ski lifts and enjoying 390 million skier visits per year. The preponderant region for downhill skiing was Europe, followed by Japan and the US. [85]

Increasingly, ski resorts are relying on snowmaking, the production of snow by forcing water and pressurized air through a snow gun on ski slopes. [86] Snowmaking is mainly used to supplement natural snow at ski resorts. [87] This allows them to improve the reliability of their snow cover and to extend their ski seasons from late autumn to early spring. The production of snow requires low temperatures. The threshold temperature for snowmaking increases as humidity decreases. Wet-bulb temperature is used as a metric since it takes air temperature and relative humidity into account. Snowmaking is a relatively expensive process in its energy consumption, thereby limiting its use. [88]

Ski wax enhances the ability of a ski or other runner to slide over snow, which depends on both the properties of the snow and the ski to result in an optimum amount of lubrication from melting the snow by friction with the ski—too little and the ski interacts with solid snow crystals, too much and capillary attraction of meltwater retards the ski. Before a ski can slide, it must overcome the maximum value static friction. Kinetic (or dynamic) friction occurs when the ski is moving over the snow. [89]


Snow affects warfare conducted in winter, alpine environments or at high latitudes. The main factors are impaired visibility for acquiring targets during falling snow, enhanced visibility of targets against snowy backgrounds for targeting, and mobility for both mechanized and infantry troops. Snowfall can severely inhibit the logistics of supplying troops, as well. Snow can also provide cover and fortification against small-arms fire. [90] Noted winter warfare campaigns where snow and other factors affected the operations include:

Military operations in snow

Effects on ecosystems

Algae, Chlamydomonas nivalis , that thrive in snow form red areas in the suncups on this snow surface Chlamydomonas nivalis.jpg
Algae, Chlamydomonas nivalis , that thrive in snow form red areas in the suncups on this snow surface

Both plant and animal life endemic to snow-bound areas develop ways to adapt. Among the adaptive mechanisms for plants are dormancy, seasonal dieback, survival of seeds; and for animals are hibernation, insulation, anti-freeze chemistry, storing food, drawing on reserves from within the body, and clustering for mutual heat. [99]

Plant life

Snow interacts with vegetation in two principal ways, vegetation can influence the deposition and retention of snow and, conversely, the presence of snow can affect the distribution and growth of vegetation. Tree branches, especially of conifers intercept falling snow and prevent accumulation on the ground. Snow suspended in trees ablates more rapidly than that on the ground, owing to its greater exposure to sun and air movement. Trees and other plants can also promote snow retention on the ground, which would otherwise be blown elsewhere or melted by the sun. Snow affects vegetation in several ways, the presence of stored water can promote growth, yet the annual onset of growth is dependent on the departure of the snowpack for those plants that are buried beneath it. Furthermore, avalanches and erosion from snowmelt can scour terrain of vegetation. [1]

Animal life

Arctic fox, a predator of smaller animals that live beneath the snow Fjellrev - Arctic fox (24490250823).jpg
Arctic fox, a predator of smaller animals that live beneath the snow

Snow supports a wide variety of animals both on the surface and beneath. Many invertebrates thrive in snow, including spiders, wasps, beetles, snow scorpionflys and springtails. Such arthropods are typically active at temperatures down to −5 °C (23 °F). Invertebrates fall into two groups, regarding surviving subfreezing temperatures: freezing resistant and those that avoid freezing because they are freeze-sensitive. The first group may be cold hardy owing to the ability to produce antifreeze agents in their body fluids that allows survival of long exposure to sub-freezing conditions. Some organisms fast during the winter, which expels freezing-sensitive contents from their digestive tracts. The ability to survive the absence of oxygen in ice is an additional survival mechanism. [99]

Small vertebrates are active beneath the snow. Among vertebrates, alpine salamanders are active in snow at temperatures as low as −8 °C (18 °F); they burrow to the surface in springtime and lay their eggs in melt ponds. Among mammals, those that remain active are typically smaller than 250 grams (8.8 oz). Omnivores are more likely to enter a torpor or be hibernators, whereas herbivores are more likely to maintain food caches beneath the snow. Voles store up to 3 kilograms (6.6 lb) of food and pikas up to 20 kilograms (44 lb). Voles also huddle in communal nests to benefit from one another's warmth. On the surface, wolves, coyotes, foxes, lynx, and weasels rely on these subsurface dwellers for food and often dive into the snowpack to find them. [99]

Extraterrestrial snow

Extraterrestrial "snow" includes water-based precipitation, but also precipitation of other compounds prevalent on other planets and moons in the Solar System. Examples are:

See also

Related Research Articles

Frost coating or deposit of ice that may form in humid air in cold conditions, usually overnight

Frost is a thin layer of ice on a solid surface, which forms from water vapor in an above freezing atmosphere coming in contact with a solid surface whose temperature is below freezing, and resulting in a phase change from water vapor to ice as the water vapor reaches the freezing point. In temperate climates, it most commonly appears on surfaces near the ground as fragile white crystals; in cold climates, it occurs in a greater variety of forms. The propagation of crystal formation occurs by the process of nucleation.

Avalanche sudden, drastic flow of snow down a slope

An avalanche is a cohesive slab of snow lying upon a weaker layer of snow when the snowpack that fractures and slides down a steep slope when triggered. Avalanches are typically triggered in a starting zone from a mechanical failure in the snowpack when the forces of the snow exceed its strength but sometimes only with gradual widening. After initiation, avalanches usually accelerate rapidly and grow in mass and volume as they entrain more snow. If the avalanche moves fast enough, some of the snow may mix with the air forming a powder snow avalanche, which is a type of gravity current.

Diamond dust is a ground-level cloud composed of tiny ice crystals. This meteorological phenomenon is also referred to simply as ice crystals and is reported in the METAR code as IC. Diamond dust generally forms under otherwise clear or nearly clear skies, so it is sometimes referred to as clear-sky precipitation. Diamond dust is most commonly observed in Antarctica and the Arctic, but can occur anywhere with a temperature well below freezing. In the polar regions of Earth, diamond dust may persist for several days without interruption.

Freezing rain is the name given to rain maintained at temperatures below freezing by the ambient air mass that causes freezing on contact with surfaces. Unlike a mixture of rain and snow, ice pellets, or hail, freezing rain is made entirely of liquid droplets. The raindrops become supercooled while passing through a sub-freezing layer of air hundreds of meters above the ground, and then freeze upon impact with any surface they encounter, including the ground, trees, electrical wires, aircraft, and automobiles. The resulting ice, called glaze ice, can accumulate to a thickness of several centimeters and cover all exposed surfaces. The METAR code for freezing rain is FZRA.

A winter storm is an event in which varieties of precipitation are formed that only occur at low temperatures, such as snow or sleet, or a rainstorm where ground temperatures are low enough to allow ice to form. In temperate continental climates, these storms are not necessarily restricted to the winter season, but may occur in the late autumn and early spring as well. Very rarely, they may form in summer, though it would have to be an abnormally cold summer, such as the summer of 1816 in the Northeastern United States.

Precipitation product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapour that falls under gravity

In meteorology, precipitation is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapor that falls under gravity. The main forms of precipitation include drizzle, rain, sleet, snow, graupel and hail. Precipitation occurs when a portion of the atmosphere becomes saturated with water vapor, so that the water condenses and "precipitates". Thus, fog and mist are not precipitation but suspensions, because the water vapor does not condense sufficiently to precipitate. Two processes, possibly acting together, can lead to air becoming saturated: cooling the air or adding water vapor to the air. Precipitation forms as smaller droplets coalesce via collision with other rain drops or ice crystals within a cloud. Short, intense periods of rain in scattered locations are called "showers."

Cloud seeding form of weather modification

Cloud seeding is a type of weather modification that aims to change the amount or type of precipitation that falls from clouds by dispersing substances into the air that serve as cloud condensation or ice nuclei, which alter the microphysical processes within the cloud. The usual intent is to increase precipitation, but hail and fog suppression are also widely practised in airports where harsh weather conditions are experienced.

Cloud physics study if the formation of clouds

Cloud physics is the study of the physical processes that lead to the formation, growth and precipitation of atmospheric clouds. These aerosols are found in the troposphere, stratosphere, and mesosphere, which collectively make up the greatest part of the homosphere. Clouds consist of microscopic droplets of liquid water, tiny crystals of ice, or both. Cloud droplets initially form by the condensation of water vapor onto condensation nuclei when the supersaturation of air exceeds a critical value according to Köhler theory. Cloud condensation nuclei are necessary for cloud droplets formation because of the Kelvin effect, which describes the change in saturation vapor pressure due to a curved surface. At small radii, the amount of supersaturation needed for condensation to occur is so large, that it does not happen naturally. Raoult's law describes how the vapor pressure is dependent on the amount of solute in a solution. At high concentrations, when the cloud droplets are small, the supersaturation required is smaller than without the presence of a nucleus.


Thundersnow, also known as a winter thunderstorm or a thundersnowstorm, is an unusual kind of thunderstorm with snow falling as the primary precipitation instead of rain. It typically falls in regions of strong upward motion within the cold sector of an extratropical cyclone. Thermodynamically, it is not different from any other type of thunderstorm, but the top of the cumulonimbus cloud is usually quite low. In addition to snow, graupel or hail may fall.

Atmospheric icing occurs when water droplets in the atmosphere freeze on objects they contact

Atmospheric icing occurs when water droplets in the atmosphere freeze on objects they contact. This can be extremely dangerous to aircraft, as the built-up ice changes the aerodynamics of the flight surfaces, which can increase the risk of a subsequent stalling of the airfoil. For this reason, ice protection systems are often considered critical components of flight, and aircraft are often deiced prior to take-off in icy environments.


In hydrology, snowmelt is surface runoff produced from melting snow. It can also be used to describe the period or season during which such runoff is produced. Water produced by snowmelt is an important part of the annual water cycle in many parts of the world, in some cases contributing high fractions of the annual runoff in a watershed. Predicting snowmelt runoff from a drainage basin may be a part of designing water control projects. Rapid snowmelt can cause flooding. If the snowmelt is then frozen, very dangerous conditions and accidents can occur, introducing the need for salt to melt the ice.

Graupel, also called soft hail or snow pellets, is precipitation that forms when supercooled water droplets are collected and freeze on falling snowflakes, forming 2–5 mm (0.08–0.20 in) balls of rime. The term graupel comes from the German language.

Subnivean climate (From Latin for "under" and "of snow" and English -an. This is the environment of many hibernal animals, as it provides insulation and protection from predators. The subnivean climate is formed by three different types of snow metamorphosis: destructive metamorphosis, which begins when snow falls; constructive metamorphosis, the movement of water vapor to the surface of the snowpack; and melt metamorphosis, the melting/sublimation of snow to water vapor and its refreezing in the snowpack. These three types of metamorphosis transform individual snowflakes into ice crystals and create spaces under the snow where small animals can move.

Snowpack mass of lying snow that is compressed and hardened by its own weight.

Snowpack forms from layers of snow that accumulate in geographic regions and high altitudes where the climate includes cold weather for extended periods during the year. Snowpacks are an important water resource that feed streams and rivers as they melt. Therefore, snowpacks are both the drinking water source for many communities and a potential source of flooding. Snowpacks also contribute mass to glaciers in their accumulation zone.

Rain and snow mixed

Rain and snow mixed is precipitation composed of rain and partially melted snow. Unlike ice pellets, which are hard, and freezing rain, which is fluid until striking an object, this precipitation is soft and translucent, but it contains some traces of ice crystals, from partially fused snowflakes. In any one location, it usually occurs briefly as a transition phase from rain to snow or vice versa. Its METAR code is RASN.

Classifications of snow

Classifications of snow describe and categorize the attributes of snow-generating weather events, including the individual crystals both in the air and on the ground, and the deposited snow pack as it changes over time. Snow can be classified by describing the weather event that is producing it, the shape of its ice crystals or flakes, how it collects on the ground, and thereafter how it changes form and composition. Depending on the status of the snow in the air or on the ground, a different classification applies.

Snow science

Snow science addresses how snow forms, its distribution, and processes affecting how snowpacks change over time. Scientists improve storm forecasting, study global snow cover and its effect on climate, glaciers, and water supplies around the world. The study includes physical properties of the material as it changes, bulk properties of in-place snow packs, and the aggregate properties of regions with snow cover. In doing so, they employ on-the-ground physical measurement techniques to establish ground truth and remote sensing techniques to develop understanding of snow-related processes over large areas.

Glossary of meteorology Wikimedia list article

This glossary of meteorology is a list of terms and concepts relevant to meteorology and the atmospheric sciences, their sub-disciplines, and related fields.


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