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Crystal Classifications Snow and Ice

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How to Catch a Falling Snowflake

  • When it is cold and snowy outside, take a sheet of black paper outside and allow it to cool to air temperature
  • Place it on the ground and let snowflakes collect on the paper
  • Before they melt, look at them with a powerful magnifying glass
  • Try to find all seven basic snowflake shapes

Famous Snowflake Quote: "The wonder of a single snowflake outweighs the wisdom of a million meteorologists." - Francis Bacon

In 1951 the International Commission on Snow and Ice devised a classification system to identify the seven basic forms of snow crystals. This chart undoubtedly included the results and data from the cumulative and exhaustive efforts of Snowflake Bentley and other early ice explorers.

Since then the chart of snow crystals has expanded greatly. In 1966, snow scientists, Magono and Lee, conducted extensive field work on weather conditions, moisture and temperature developed their own snowflake class charts.

Main Classifications of Snow Crystal Formation

Modern day snow scientist, Ken Libbrecht continues to contribute to the advancement of snow studies with his published charts of snowflake classifications and related important scientific discoveries.

The 7 main shapes or classifications are

  • Plate Crystals: Hexagonal crystals.
  • Stellar Plate Crystals: star-like with unbroken arms. When the ridges become defined and prominent, they are called Sectored plates. These are the most common snowflakes with thin, plate-like crystals
  • Columns are six-sided hollow or solid prisms
  • Needle Crystal are thin, long, needle-like crystals
  • Graupels form when snow crystals fall through very moist air see Photo #807.
  • Hail forms when a precipitation particle falls through a layer of moist air and becomes coated with a layer of ice.
  • Ice Pellets may form when rain falls though a very cold air mass
  • The Hexagonal Prism is the basic ice crystal shape. They are very tiny and usually cannot be seen without a magnifying glass.

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