Snow Science

Explore these science extras with the snow science at the end of I LIKE THE SNOW.

Snowflakes are clusters of tiny ice crystals. Ice crystals form high in the sky when the air is so cold that water vapor freezes. If the air is very cold, the crystals may freeze in beautiful shapes that look like stars, flowers, or fancy jewels.

You can catch snowflakes on a piece of cold black paper or a colorful mitten to examine the ice crystals. Looking through a magnifying glass will show you even more.

Ice crystals form shapes with six branches or six sides. This is because water molecules — or microscopic particles of water — have six sides. Therefore, they always join together in six-sided shapes, called hexagons. Some are beautiful, like the fancy ice crystals here.

Other ice crystals are six-sided sticks (think of billions of short, tiny pencil shapes). On the way down, ice crystals usually bump into one another, stick together, and form larger snowflakes. 

Skiers often wear sunglasses or ski goggles because sunlight on snow is so incredibly bright and light. All the tiny, icy surfaces of the ice crystals act like trillions of little mirrors reflecting sunlight back to our eyes. Even moonlight can make snow glitter and twinkle with white light.

A thick blanket of snow protects tree roots and hibernating animals throughout the cold winter. Although the air temperature may fall below zero, under the snow, the temperature will remain much milder.

Even animals that don’t hibernate benefit from a blanket of snow. Mice, for example, make a maze of tunnels under the snow between their cozy nests and the places where they forage for frozen seeds and other treats.

However, mice must always be alert because predators like foxes are on the prowl all winter, too. When they hear mice moving under the snow, they pounce! Unlike many animals, foxes don’t sleep under a blanket of snow, they nestle down in the snow under the stars and cover their cold noses with their warm, fluffy tails.

The snow gives us so many ways to play. This is me on my ice skates with my brother when I was little. We didn’t just like the snow, we loved the snow. Snow forts, snowmen, snow angels, sledding, skating… There was always something fun to do.