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The Story of a Snowflake

Originally published on December 5, 2016

One of the greatest pleasures of winter in many parts of North America are the clear, cold skies. Cold temperatures hold less water vapour, leaving the skies crystal clear for star gazing.

The other magical thing, water vapour transforms into snowflakes. Read “The Story of the a Snowflake” below from The Big Book of Nature Activities: A Year-Round Guide to Outdoor Learning. I am not sure if there is anything that can get you into the hygge spirit quite like snow!

The Story of a Snowflake.

It all began 1,000 years ago. A volcanic eruption in the Philippines sent a cloud of dust and ash skyward 8 mi. (12 km) above lofty mountains. For many years one particle of ash tumbled around the sky buffeted by winds, mixing with the upper and lower atmosphere.

On one December night, this small particle ended up in a part of the atmosphere that was supercooled and stable, about −4 degrees Fahrenheit (–20°C). Moisture in the air gradually increased as winds blew warm ocean air upward over the mountains. A lone particle of ash bumped against molecules of water and a snow seed was born — a microscopic crystal so small even the world’s most powerful microscope would have trouble seeing it. One by one other molecules were pulled towards the growing crystal, fusing and becoming larger. Within two hours, the snow crystal had grown a thousandfold into a perfect hexagon. The snow crystal, now a snowflake, had become so heavy it began to fall. Slowly at first, and then gathering momentum, it danced towards the Earth. Every layer of air it fell through had slightly different levels of moisture and temperature. And each layer sculpted the flake into a more complex and beautiful shape. I was walking with my two children in the first snowfall of the season, tongues outstretched to catch the tumbling crystals from above. One delicately made snowflake fell upon my daughter’s warm tongue, and she smiled as it melted into the tiniest droplet of water, so soft it was almost never there.

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