5 things you thought you knew about snow
Anchorage is experiencing another day of wintry weather this week. With measurable snowfall already exceeding an inch, this is the snowiest April Anchorage has seen in five years.
With spring now on hold in Southcentral, let's take a look at common misconceptions and myths about snow.
1. Snow is always white
The color of snow is something we typically don't think about, as we are conditioned to see snow as white. This is due to countless photos, winter scenes in movies, and just standing outside experiencing it. However, that isn't always the case. Snow can come in a variety of colors and its color is dependent upon the environment and the atmosphere through which it falls.
To understand color, you must first understand light. As light shines on an object, some colors are absorbed and some are reflected. What we see is the color that is reflected back to us. Grass is green not only because of photosynthesis, but because it reflects green light. A black shirt is seen as black to us because it absorbs all colors and reflects none. Snow is white because it reflects all colors, but there are some cases where snow can appear red, green, brown and even blue.
The most common cause for colored snow is the presence of algae, which can make some snow look red or pink. This type of snow is known as watermelon snow and, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), typically occurs on temperature glaciers and snow that persists on the ground year after year.
Another common color of snow can occur due to the environment. When snow falls through the atmosphere and encounters dust, sand or pollutants it can change the color of snow to orange or brown. This typically occurs due to wind storms which can pick up dust and carry it high in the atmosphere where snow and rain typically form.
Other colors of snow are gray and black, which occur when snow falls through a heavily polluted area, and blue snow, which is more commonly seen when snow is compacted over a long period of time and forms a glacier.
2. No two snowflakes are the same
While your chances of finding two identical snowflakes are slim, scientists have actually found two identical snowflakes.
According to the Associated Press, Nancy C. Knight of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado discovered the first identical snowflakes in November 1986.
While it is very rare to see two snowflakes alike, the age old saying can be traced back to Wilson Bentley. Bentley, who was a farmer, became a photographer of snowflakes and captured over 5,000 flakes. He was quoted in 1925:
“Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost.”
This prompted the "no two snowflakes are alike" saying we hear today. Snowflakes actually get their shape based off the temperature and humidity of the atmosphere. As a flake falls through the atmosphere, it encounters different temperatures and humidity levels which, can alter the shape of the flake.
3. Eating snow is safe for you
We've all enjoyed that first snow of the season, when the landscape becomes a winter wonderland. For many it brings out the child in us, as we head outside to build snowmen, have a snowball fight, and even eat the white, fluffy snow. But did you know that eating it can actually be dangerous for you?
You may have heard that you can eat snow when outdoors and not near a source of water, but doing so can actually lead to dehydration. The NSIDC states that while snow is composed of ice crystals, most of its volume is air. Because of this, eating snow limits the amount of moisture you are actually taking in.
Snow can also harbor certain bacteria that can lead to digestive issues. If you are stuck in the elements and not near a source of water, you should find a way to melt the snow before consuming it, so you can ensure that you are getting the right amount of water.
4. It's too cold to snow
It's a bit of a misnomer to say it's too cold to snow. Every now and then you'll hear someone drop that phrase, but even some of the coldest places on earth experience snowfall every now and again.
For snow to form, you need three ingredients: cold temperatures, moisture and lift. The combination of all three of these determines just how heavy snowfall can be in any given location. However, the colder it is the less likely it is to snow.
As air gets colder, it also becomes drier, which makes snow harder to come by. While there is a bit of truth to the saying, it can still snow in extreme cold, although it's because of the lack of moisture and not because of the colder temperatures.
5. The ground is too warm for snow to accumulate
This past month is a perfect example of why it isn't too warm for snow. Following record-breaking heat in March with temperatures in the 50s, we saw a return of Old Man Winter.
But how can snow, which can only fall when temperatures are below freezing, accumulate on a warm ground? The answer lies in how fast it's accumulating.
Think of a partially clogged drain in your kitchen and the rate at which it drains. The faster you add water to the sink, the more it adds up. This is because the rate of the water being added is not equivalent to the slow draining that occurs.
The same can be said for snow. The faster it snows, the more likely you'll see accumulation because the rate at which it is snowing is not equivalent to the rate at which the snow is melting.
Do you have any other myths about snow that you would like answered? What about myths that you've heard about weather? Email us at email@example.com and we'll track down the answers for you.
Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.
MORE WEATHER NEWS: