Brief Science Guide to Crystals and Snowflakes

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Snow science beakerIntroductory Guide to the Science of Snow


Cool Scientific Things to Know

  • Symmetry, angles, and hexagon shapes of snowflakes and how water forms into ice crystals.
  • Children can easily learn mathematical concepts while making paper snowflakes.
  • Snowflakes are not square, 4 or 8 sided.
  • Snowflakes are generally 6 sided (hexagonal) but can also be two, three and 12 sided.
  • Snowflakes are composed of thousands of tiny, identical, hexagonal shaped ice crystals.
  • Historical snow and ice exploration
  • See how plant and leaf development resembles snowflake formation

How Snowflakes for Children Can Help

  • Snowflake instructions diagram the steps to create accurate snowflake designs based upon common scientific snowflake classifications.
  • Each snowflake template image represents a common Snowflake Classification.
  • Each instruction page depending upon whether it is 2, 3. 4. 5 or 6 sided, explains how to cut snowflakes using the science of nature as your guide. Many of the patterns in our pattern library were designed from photographs of actual snowflakes.
  • Make a flake for fun winter related craft patterns and projects. Use squares of origami, tissue paper, or other light weight paper, creative techniques and craft supplies to make a variety of snowflake designs.

What are common snowflake shapes and sizes?

Frozen Clouds help create snow crystals!

Snowflake crystals form when water vapor cools and freezes inside clouds.

You might be surprised to find that snowflakes are not all six-sided as the 7 main shapes or classifications show.

Guide to Different Types of Snowflakes and Other Flaky Facts

There are many reasons that no two snowflakes are alike. Snowflakes form by sticking to each other while falling and blowing through the wind. Factors that influence the size and shape of a snowflake are:

Snowflakes form by sticking to each other

  • Air currents (in which direction the air is moving)
  • Humidity levels (the amount of water vapor in the air)
  • How long it takes the crystal to fall
  • Calculate Wind speed game
  • Amount of dust, salt or other solid particles in the air
  • Pressure from the weight of other snow crystals
  • Combining shapes with other snow crystals
  • Changes to any of these factors

How do Snowflakes Form?

  • Falling snow starts with precipitation
  • Falling snow is called "Precipitated Snow".
  • "Precipitate" means: to condense as a vapor and fall from the sky.
  • Every snow crystal starts as "precipitation".

The book: "Rain, Hail, Snow and Sleet" teaches about "precipitation".

Snowflakes are Symmetrical

  • Every snowflake is a collection of snow crystals
  • Snowflakes can consist of only 2 snow crystals or hundreds of snow crystals.
  • Snow crystals are frozen water molecules which bond to each other.
  • Snowflakes are formed when Snow Crystals grow into tiny, sometimes microscopic, "symmetrical" shapes.
  • "Symmetrical" means: proportional, or having an equal number of parts.
  • A perfectly formed 6-sided snowflake is called "symmetrical".

Metamorphosed Snow

  • Every snowflake changes as it ages.
  • Changing snow is called "Metamorphosed Snow".
  • "Metamorphose" means: to change or transform into a different physical form.
  • Water vapor that has changed into snow crystals is "Metamorphosed snow".

No Two Snowflakes Are Exactly Alike

It's true, just like human fingerprints are each different, every snowflake is different, although each snowflake is made up of hundreds or even thousands of tiny, identically shaped hexagonal crystals gathered together.

There are an infinite variety of snowflakes. Wilson (Snowflake) Bentley, an American farmer who devoted most of his life to the examination and photography of snowflakes, never found two identical snowflakes.

Snow crystal forms generally fall into broad categories, or Snowflake and Ice Crystal Classifications which are used to create a common form of reference to describe snow crystals.

Why should we care about Snow types?

The simple answer: Avalanches Happen

Global Snowflake Network: Scientists are enlisting volunteers to document the shape of snowflakes around the world.

Where is the Coldest Place on Earth?

Antarctica is the coldest place on earth. The next coldest places are a few areas in Russia.

The snowflakes that fall on Antarctica hold valuable scientific information about the atmospheric conditions at the time of their formation.

This long-term climatic and environmental information is contained in the dust, chemicals and gas that was trapped in the ice during the snowflake's formation.

The Antarctic ice sheet is a collection of snowfalls that fell over hundreds of thousands of years.

I am not a scientist, not even close, but I confess to being an overly interested bystander in total awe of the work scientists have done to reveal the secrets of the snowflake.

Does that make me a snow groupie? Naw. Groupies follow their idols around the country trying to get as close as possible to the object of their adoration. Not me. As much as I'd like to imagine trecking into the frozen tundra like Snowflake Bentley or sailing off into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean like William Scoresby, or huddling in a sub-zero lab like Kenneth Libbrecht creating custom flakes, for instance, to freeze my u-know-what's off while peering into a microscope in minus 60° weather for hours and days on end...well, that's not going to happen.

I'm quite content imagining the bitter cold conditions one must endure in order to study these little frozen miracles, thank you. So you can picture me as a cheerleader of sorts to the snow walkers. I'll sing of their virtues and great works from my shady poolside cabana out here in the hot sun of California, where snow conditions are located a convenient 2 hour drive away.

I put in my time in frigid conditions years ago while residing in both Illinois and Iowa. I remember one January in the 80's where the thermometer refused to reach above 0 for days on end. I don't even want to talk about the wind chill factor, although my son who was around 12 years old at the time went on his first ski trip and reported the windwhill on the mountain was -160°. You must forgive me when I refer to mountains in the midwest. To Iowans and other flatlanders of the great plains, a 50 foot incline is a mountain. I think I wore a my sleeping bag the entire time, just slepped around the house packed inside a big overstuffed bag.

Today, the coldest temperature I wish to experience is when I venture into the chilly, fresh vegetable room at COSTCO.