It’s snowing outside my window and it’s all I can do to keep my gaze on the computer screen and get my work done. It’s not just snow, but those big, fat perfect snowflakes.
There’s something magic about snow, something that goes beyond the scientific explanation of super-cooled droplets of water freezing to form hexagonal, six-sided shapes. It’s a topic that one man spent his whole life studying.
Wilson A . “Snowflake” Bentley was the son of a farming family in Vermont. Introverted and studious, he started studying snowflakes after getting a microscope from his mom. He was 15. His first tries at viewing the crystals were frustrating – the flakes kept melting – and full of awe.
He sketched the myriads of snowflake forms, until he managed to convince his dad to buy him a camera. On January 15, 1885, Wilson Bentley took the first-ever successful photo of a snowflake. In 1931, just shortly before he died of pneumonia, Bentley’s classic work Snow Crystals was published. The book contained 2500 different images of snowflakes.
Each snowflake starts as a microscopic droplet of water that is attracted to a particle of dust. It joins together with almost a million other frigid drops to form a single flake. Each flake is created under slightly different wind and temperature conditions within the cloud, giving each an individual shape. Although researchers have recently discovered identical snowflakes, Bentley never did.
Beyond flakes, snow comes in many different forms. In 1951, an International Classification system was devised for solid precipitation. It defines seven main snow crystal types: plates, stellar crystals, columns, needles, spatial dendrites, capped columns, and irregular forms. As well, there are also three more types of frozen precipitation: graupel, ice pellets, and hail.
For backcountry skiers, studying snow crystals is a crucial component in assessing snow stability and forecasting avalanche hazard. Whether you are a pro or novice winter enthusiast, the Brooks-Range folding magnifier is a perfect tool for viewing snowflakes and snow crystals up close.
Still snowing – okay, that’s it. Work can wait for a couple of hours, I’m heading outside to play. Think I’ll start by building a snowman and naming him Wilson.