Can the form of snowflake crystals be predicted?

Snowflake crystals come in several forms, including needle-shaped, platelike, capped columns, and feathery dendrites. Temperature and humidity levels determine which type of shape is formed, so, yes, if these conditions are known, the type of snowflake formed could be predicted. In natural conditions, this would of course be impractical, but laboratory conditions could be established to form particular types of snow crystals, if desired.

How unhealthy is snow shoveling?

Heart attack rates increase sharply during the winter months in northern climates because people who are older or are not very healthy get too much exercise shoveling snow. Because more men than women tend to shovel snow, about three fourths of winter fatalities after snow storms are men. Fifty percent of these men, too, are over 60 years of age. You should always ask a doctor if you are healthy enough to shovel snow

Where was the most snowfall ever recorded?

Washington State's Mt. Baker recorded the most snowfall in a single season: 1,140 inches (2,896 centimeters).

What is diamond dust?

Diamond dust, also known as "ice prisms," are tiny ice crystals that can form in the air on extremely cold days if the air contains enough moisture. The effect can be quite beautiful, as sparkling, barely visible crystals appear in mid-air on sunny days, catching the sunlight and, indeed, appearing as if they are tiny diamond chips wafting in the breeze.

Who created the first artificial snowflake?

Japanese physicist Ukichiro Nakaya (1900-1962) created the first artificial snowflakes at Hokkaido University in 1936. Nakaya, who was inspired by the photographs of Wilson A. Bentley (1865-1931), also devised a rather poetic snowflake classification system, which he described in his 1954 book, Snow Crystals: Natural and Artificial.

Wilson A. Bentley was famous for taking highly detailed photographs of snowflakes, such as these images taken in 1902. (NOAA)

Wilson A. Bentley was famous for taking highly detailed photographs of snowflakes, such as these images taken in 1902. (NOAA)

Is there a classification system for snowflakes?

Humankind has an affinity for classifying just about anything, and that includes snowflakes. In 1951, the International Commission on Snow and Ice (yes, there was such a commission!) created a system for putting a name on each type of snowflake—a daunting task when one considers that no two flakes are alike.

What are the types of snowflakes as identified in the International Classification System?

The types of snowflakes have been described, officially, as follows.

Stellar Plates, as the name indicates, are starlike flakes that are flat, distinctly hexagonal, with six broad arms.

Sectored Plates are similar to stellar plates, but also have prominent ridges pointing to each of the six facets in the plate.

Double Plates occur when two stellar plates are connected by a cap. Usually, one plate is much larger than the other.

Split Plates and Stars happen when parts of two separate plates merge to form one plate that, if not closely inspected, looks like a single six-armed plate. For example, a partial plate containing two arms could merge with one that has four arms left, leaving a six-armed plate that appears like a complete single plate.

Simple Prisms—tiny, six-armed, flat snowflakes that are hard to distinguish with the naked eye, but are a very common form.

Stellar Dendrites have treelike arms (dendritic means "treelike") with multiple branches extending from each of the six arms.

Fernlike Stellar Dendrites are stellar dendrites with more frilly, fernlike branches.

Radiating Dendrites (Spacial Dendrites) are dendrites that have arms extending not just in two dimensions, but in three.

Capped Columns look like columns that have six flat sides (imagine two hexagons that are joined together).

Hollow Columns are similar to capped columns, except the ends of the columns are hollow or divoted.

12-sided Snowflakes When two six-sided plates join together at a 30-degree angle, they form what appears to be a 12-armed plate or capped column.

Who was the "Snowflake Man"?

American photographer and farmer Wilson A. Bentley (1865-1931) was nicknamed the "Snowflake Man," or just "Snowflake" Bentley, because he photographed images of over 2,400 snowflakes. His stunning photo collection capturing the natural beauty of snowflakes was published in 1931's Snow Crystals.

Needles look just like the name: thin, long ice crystals. They usually form when the temperature is about 23°F (-5°C).

Triangular Crystals often form at temperatures of about 28°F (-2°C) and are rather like deformed stellar flakes where half the arms are not fully formed, creating a triangle shape as a result.

Bullet Rosettes happen when several columns melt and freeze together, looking like several crystal bullets merged at the heads at odd angles to each other.

Rimed Crystals occur when additional water droplets freeze onto already formed snowflakes, giving them a fuzzy appearance.

Irregular Crystals are snowflakes that are a rather disorganized mess of multiple snowflakes that have broken up and melted together.

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