I haven't been to the arctic yet, though some days it feels like I live there. We had a snowstorm yesterday. It dropped 8" of the fluffy stuff on the ground, causing my school to cancel classes for the day. I can't say I was upset by it, because when you live on a farm and you get nearly a foot of snow, there's work to be done.

I stared out my window as I pulled on my snow gear and boots, trying to be as quiet as
possible. (Don't want to wake my children or dogs up! It's early.) I was trying to
figure out if the snow was heavy or light. Why, you ask? Because the weight of the snow
determines just how much work I'm going to have to do in terms of shoveling.

If the snow is wet and heavy, it's going to take me a long time. If the snow is dry and
fluffy, then it will take no time at all. The moisture content of the snow will also
determine if I'm going to bring my horses into the barn or not; again, if it is wet
and heavy, I'll bring them in (More work! They get cranky when they're cooped up too.)
because the snow will soak through to their skin. If it is light and fluffy, then it
will simply shake off them and they will stay dry and warm.

Judging by the way the snow was falling, I predicted (and hoped) it would be light and
fluffy. As I opened my door to step outside, I was delighted to find out that I was
right, it was light and fluffy.

This made me wonder, though, as I am wont to do: What type of weather conditions cause
light snow, and what type of weather conditions cause wet snow? And didn't I hear once
upon a time that various cultures had different names for different types of snow? So,
after shoveling (which didn't take long) I came back inside, made a coffee for myself,
and began to complete some research.

It turns out there is a word for what I'm describing: Snow-to-water ratio. According to
Accuweather, "A snow-to-water ratio describes how many inches of snow will be produced by
1 inch of water." Interesting. It turns out that the moisture available in the air
dictates the "weight" of snow, or how much it is going to actually stay on the ground.

So, in the case of the snowstorm at my house, there was very little moisture in the air,
so the snow was fluffy, light, and "dry." The snowstorms that I dread (the ones with
heavy snow) occur when there is a higher moisture content in the air. This can also be
understood as humidity, which we often think more about in the summer months, but is
equally as interesting to look at in the winter months.

Humidity can also dictate how cold it feels outside. So, for example, on two
equally sunny days with the exact same temperature outside (let's say it's 20 degrees),
a huge factor in how cold it feels is the humidity. The higher the humidity, the colder
it can feel. (Ispo facto, the lower the humidity, the warmer it can feel). Now, this
might seem counterintuitive, but the mitigating factor here is that we wear clothing!

According to Iowa State University, the more humid the air is, the more moisture is
captured in our clothing, therefore making us feel colder. No one wants to have wet
clothes when it's cold outside!

So, it turns out that yesterday's dry storm, which dropped a bunch of light, fluffy snow
was the perfect storm for me. It didn't feel too cold out (moisture wasn't being trapped
in my clothing!) and the snow was light as a feather (less moisture available in the air
for the snow to capture!) The horses were happy they got to stay outside.

Cheers,
Jenn Johnson

Date
Weather Summary
Bright, Sunny
Temperature
32
Wind Speed
1
Wind Chill
32

Comments

Tammy Orilio

Hi Jenn! Really enjoyed your distinguishing between the fluffy snow and the heavy, dread-to-shovel snow. I live in FL now, but grew up in upstate NY, so am well-versed in the world of Lake Effect Snow- both the fluffy and the heavy! Reading this really took me back to my time of getting up early and shoveling just to clear a path out of the driveway. I shudder to think about the chaos that would ensue if we got even a dusting of snow down here in South Florida haha!

Judy Fahnestock

Hi Jenn, I can totally relate to your journal and discussion of humidity levels. Having grown up in Buffalo, we had a lot of the lake effect snowstorms and wet and heavy snow. It always felt COLD there. For a while, I lived in Fairbanks where there are only light, dry snowflakes that sat on the power lines - light and still. It felt so much warmer there until it the temperatures dipped below zero. It's such an interesting contrast! I hope you make it to the Arctic this summer when you can make your own comparisons!

Jon Pazol

Jenn, growing up in Ohio and living most of my life in Chicago, I am familiar with both kinds of snow and the challenges they present. I was wondering if climate change has had an impact on the relative amounts some areas receive, as well as the prevalence of "snice" - a local term for snow that quickly ices over into a rock hard crunchy surface that is impervious to shoveling.