Weather Ready Nation – How snow forms

Weather Ready Nation

LUBBOCK, Texas – There is an interesting occurrence that happens in the atmosphere in order for those of us on the ground to get a beautiful blanket of snow.

It begins with three factors: temperature, particles and moisture.

When conditions are just right this meteorological occurrence will create the wintry spectacle that brings out a child like joy in all of us.

Up in the atmosphere, the temperature needs to be at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

When these cold temperatures are happening in the clouds tiny particles called condensation nuclei which are microscopic materials of dust, ash, salt or other particles start to freeze when moisture condenses around them.

The particles begin to form into ice crystals. There are different types of ice crystals with various length scales that form under different moisture levels and temperatures however all ice crystals have six sides and follow a crystalline pattern.

The ice crystals are similar in shape until they begin to coalesce giving each a unique snowflake pattern. When the snowflakes become heavy enough they begin to fall to the surface around 3.2 miles per hour.

National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Jody James says everything has to be just right to get that rapid growth of snowflakes.

“You start getting those big half dollar snowflakes that grow in the cloud, and grow as they are falling, you can accumulate snow on the ground into the rate of several inches an hour,” James said.

Forecasting winter weather can be difficult due to the various temperature layers or structures in the atmosphere that can change what falls to the ground. What starts in the atmosphere as snow can melt and change into rain, freezing rain or sleet depending on these factors. 

Pay attention to winter storm warnings and have supplies on hand before the storm hits. In the event your home loses electricity, communities or Red Cross will often open up shelters.

“There are some storms where we just recommend people stay at home, unless it’s an absolute emergency.” 

Jody James – National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist

You can be subject to getting stranded on the road where temperatures can drop in the single digits with wind chills well below zero.

The worst thing you can do if you are stranded in your car is to get out and try to walk in these circumstances. That is why it is so important to carry a winter supply kit in your car and be willing to wait it out.

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