Snow facts

Posted: Friday, October 19, 2001

The maximum re-corded total snowfall at Kenai was 118 inches in the winter of 1994-1995. That winter also had the snowiest recorded month, 51.6 inches in November 1994.

The winter with the least snowfall was 1980-1981, when only 14.9 inches fell altogether.

Snowfall varies around the Kenai Peninsula and from year to year, but when all the numbers are averaged, they come out fairly consistent. The mean annual snowfall at Kenai is 61.8 inches; at Cooper Landing 42.2 inches; at Kasilof 53.6 inches; at Homer 56.0 inches and at Seward 80.4 inches.

Individual snow crystals can fall from the sky. Snowflakes are collections of snow crystals loosely bound together into a puff-ball. These can grow to large sizes, up to about the width of a hand in some cases when the snow is especially wet and sticky.

Is each snowflake really unique?

According to scientists from Cal Tech who studied ice and snow crystals, a typical small snow crystal contains about 10 billion billions of molecules and passes through an array of environmental conditions during formation. They concluded the odds of any two being alike in nature are vanishingly small.

Snow particles are based on a six-sided crystal structure, based in turn on molecular shape of the hydrogen and oxygen bonds in water. Ice, under high pressures or extremely cold temperatures, can take other shapes as well.

Snowflake shapes depend on temperature. The classic six-pointed star with varying degrees of lacy complexity forms near 5 degrees. A few degrees colder or warmer, between about 3 to minus 8 and 10 to 14, and the crystals are flat, plate-like forms. Hollow hexagonal columns appear at temperatures between 21 and 14 and again when the temperature is minus 8 or lower. Six-sided needles appear at temperatures in the low 20s, and flat hexagonal plates show up nearer the freezing point.

Individual snow crystals are transparent. But snow looks white because light gets scattered and reflected among the zillions of tiny surfaces. Since all colors from the visible light are scattered equally, the result looks white to us.

Once snow is on the ground, water moves through it depending on the temperature. During cold weather, water sublimates from the insulated, warmer deep layers up to the surface and evaporates, leaving the deep snow more porous and weak. During thaws, water trickles downward and converts the deepest snow into icy kernels.

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