Stuff I Didn’t Know About Snow

Being California-born and Texas-raised, this Ukrainian snow is something of a novelty for me. I’m sure this novelty will wear off after enough time in Ukraine, but for now it gives me something to enjoy in this cold weather–all the glittery pretty white fluffy stuff! I’m daily discovering despite having experienced (paltry) snowfalls in Texas, one Christmas in Missouri, and summer snow on the top of Pike’s Peak, that I really don’t have a clue about REAL snow at all.

i wonder if i'll ever see or think of snow *without* mentally singing this song. (i hope not!)

Here’s the sum total of what I knew about snow before:

1. It’s frozen water that falls from the sky.

2. It’s white.

3. If there’s enough, it crunches when you walk on it.

And here are some of the things that I’ve studiously observed about that cold white stuff.

1. When it snows significantly for multiple days, it forms in layers on the edges of roofs and banisters and walls, like white strata. It’s crazy, it looks like you could excavate snowy dino bones from it. Or maybe an ice-trilobite? Which instantly brings to mind this scene from Friends:

Ross: Something could’ve happened. All right? She-she really dug my slides. And-and she was definitely giving me the vibe.

Rachel: Right. Was it the, “Please don’t show me another picture of a trilobite vibe?”

Ross: I’m telling you, she was into me, okay! …Hey, you remembered trilobite!

(Aaaaaaand SCENE.)

Rachel doubts Ross's ability to woo her sister with slides of trilobites. As do I.

2. Snow is messy. Okay, objectively, I knew this, but it’s totally different when you’ve stamped your feet, wiped them thoroughly on three mats, and still you’re tracking in melty muddy snow.

3. There’s a good reason the Sami have so many different words for snow: there are all different kinds! Slushy, hard, crunchy, slippery, fluffy, bunchy… and I haven’t even been around to experience much of it yet.

4. It’s hard to walk on. Honestly, I thought ice was going to be my only worry–clearly, the paltry snow-dustings of Dallas didn’t prepare me for walking in actual accumulated snow. I’m stumbling around like a toddler with an inner ear problem. Or a clutzy cowgirl. Or some other amusing-yet-apt metaphor, take your pick.

illustration from Anne Ursus Breadcrumbs

Illustration from Anne Ursu's amazing book, Breadcrumbs. GO READ IT NOW. I command you!

5. The hexagonal architecture of snowflakes is clearly visible to the naked eye, when they’re large enough. I’m sure my Missouri-bred Dad will find this hard to believe, and I did listen in science class (promise!), but honestly I thought their shape was some microscopic secret. I just read Anne Ursu‘s Breadcrumbs (which is OH-HOLY-HECKFIRE-AMAZING, btw, go read it NOW!), and when the main character inspects a snowflake in the opening pages of the book and talks about its structure, I honestly thought the fairy tale part of that book started there. Seriously. Snowflakes are BIG and PERFECT-SHAPED and LACY??–HOW MAGICAL IS THIS? Walking down the street in a big fluffy snowfall, I feel I’m going to run into the Snow Queen and the White Witch any minute. (Good thing I hate Turkish Delight.)

6. It glitters at night under lamplight or moonlight. Again: MAGICALNESS.

7. Sometimes it comes down in CLUMPS. Big, fluffy clusters of snowflakes wadded together, falling out of the sky like Saint Peter’s shaking out Heaven’s lint-trap. Which prompts the question: are angel robes really linty? Enquiring minds, St. Pete.

So. SNOW. I bet there’s still more for me to discover about it. Now I’m about to go walk back to the hotel in more of it. Yippee!

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10 thoughts on “Stuff I Didn’t Know About Snow

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      hee hee i was JUST thinking about my dearth of snow photos this morning. because it’s cold outside, i tend to either have my hands in gloves or in pockets, and my camera/phone in a bag or a pocket, making snow photos difficult. BUT. i remembered to take one this morning, HA! 😉

  1. Former Library Director says:

    You should definitely read Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg. It is set in Denmark and Greenland, is a mystery. It was a best seller in the early 1990s.

    As someone who lived most of his life in “snow country.” I want to correct one perception: the crunch is not from the amount of snow, but from the aging. If it sits a bit, and dries out, it starts to get crunchy on the top, this is especially true if it gets warmer and then cools off. (Of course “warmer” is a relative term.) What is really cool is to have an ice storm on top of a snow storm, then you can sometimes even walk on snow (without snow shoes).

    Speaking of snow shoes, that is an incredible work out! One place I lived had trails just for snow shoeing. You should also try cross-country skiing. That is also a great workout!

    How dry the air is will affect snow and textures. For many years I lived near the coast. Snow was often wet and heavy (especially for shoveling). I then lived a couple of winters in the upper Midwest. What a difference! The snow is so dry! (It will also, by the way, squeak when it is really cold and really dry.)

    Have fun, wear lots of layers. Remember silk is good next to the skin to keep you warm (and it wicks away water). Wool will help you hold your body warmth even when the wool is wet. There is an expression for winter camping: Cotton Kills! Avoid cotton in the winter — and jeans are usually cotton. It holds the moisture, and the warmth will flow out!

    Have fun. (I’ll be on a Caribbean beach next week!)

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      oooooh thanks for the recommendation! i remember when that book (and movie) came out, the title was intriguing–i’ll definitely put it at the top of my GoodReads list. 🙂

      and thanks for the more-snow-info, i’m sure i’ll learn more as the winter goes on (especially when i start snowboarding–ahem i mean FALLING DOWN SNOWY HILLS, heh). it’s incredible how different sustained snow is from brief Texas dustings!!

      yep, i’ve been investing in silk scarves (muwahahaha) as warmth as well as fashion lately… the hardest part is finding good wool/non-cotton pants for tiny lady-folk like me. But I’ve been layering wool base layers under the jeans/trousers i’m currently stuck with, and it helps.

      have FUN in the Caribbean!!! i’m jealous… only a week gone and i already miss my bikini. at least i get to enjoy my slight tan for a few more weeks. 🙂

  2. James says:

    In the great white north, I noticed that when it starts snowing at night the sky brightens up. The snow reflecting light from streetlamps in Verona gave the sky a strange orange glow. As the snow came down harder, the sky kept getting brighter – but only to a point. The snowfall grew heavier and heavier until most of the light was blocked and the sky grew very dark indeed. Even the light from the streetlamp across the way was blotted from view.

    The snowman builders were out in force the next day, plying their trade with pleasure.

  3. Bill Brockmeier says:

    You mentioned your experience of “paltry” Texas snows, and that may generally be true if you are talking mere depth of accumulation. But after having grown up in the middle of the country (Kansas City, MO) and having seen a lifetime accumulation of probably dozens of feet, the largest snowflakes I have ever seen in my life occurred in Selma, Texas just north of San Antonio (which by the way is on the same latitude as Cairo, Egypt!).

    Just after arriving at work (probably in the late 1980s or early 90s) a snowfall started which was absolutely stunning. I had many times heard the simile of “snowflakes falling like feathers” and thought that I had seen such a thing previously, but that morning I saw the simile literally played out before me. I first saw them from the lobby of where I worked and thought “What in the world is blowing around out there?” It truly appeared to be white feathers— anywhere from 25 to 60mm across (that’s 1 to 2 1/2 inches for those out there in Yorba Linda)— and they were slowly floating down from “on high” to the earth’s surface, gracefully oscillating back and forth as they fell— just…like…feathers. I could scarcely believe what I was seeing.

    A co-worker and I ran out into the parking lot as soon as we fully realized what we were witnessing. Looking straight up into the sky it was an absolutely magical sight. The flakes/feathers were so large, that you could clearly identify separate individuals probably fifty to a hundred feet up. And then you could follow that single flake all the way down to ground level and even catch it in your hand.

    Examining a flake in my hand proved that the more distant view from the lobby was right on the mark. Even close up, these looked almost exactly like feathers: pure white, feathery/fluffy/frayed edges, so light you couldn’t feel their weight, and dropping them again they continued their slow, swaying descent to the earth. And they weren’t just flat like the more normal microscopic flakes you see. They possessed a distinct domed surface, with the convex side pointing downward.

    This was an experience I will truly never forget! Amazing!

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      i didn’t realize you didn’t see as much snow as i expected in KC. yeah, i had a similar crazy snowfall experience here in January, shortly after we got back to Kharkov from Texas. the snowflakes were so BIG and they fell so SLOWLY, i just couldn’t believe it! it was like watching snow in a movie, it was unreal.

      sounds like you guys should come visit us in WINTER and enjoy the magical snowfall! 😉

  4. maplibrarian says:

    loved this post, when I read about all of the snow falling in eastern Europe and the Balkans I wondered how you were managing. Having grown up and lived with snow all of my life, there are still times when I am amazed by it’s nature. Next time, if it is possible to find a quiet spot while it is snowing, go outside, sit still and you can hear it as it hits the ground. A magical sound!

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      i’m glad to hear that you still find it magical! i’ll be out in the snow today, looks like, so i’ll have to listen for it. 🙂 we woke up and it looked like a thick fog hit the city–neat to watch it fall from the 18th flooor!

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