Crystal Classifications Snow and Ice

olaus mangus snowflake wood cutting

Cool 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 are published in
  • Plant veins and leaf development can resemble fractal snowflake formation

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

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.

Here are just a sample of the many forms snowcrystals can take:

Main Classifications of Snow Crystal Formation

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.

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
  • 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".

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".

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 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.

snowflake classification: Needles
snowflake classification: Hollow Column
Hollow Columns
snowflake classification: Plate
Sector Plates
snowflake classification: Dendrite