In areas were snow is rare there are of lot of misconceptions about it.  They are probably even worse in areas where it has not snowed for generations.  Of cause everyone reading this knows what snow is.  Yet it does not follow one is familiar with the characteristics of snow.  As Mike West once put it:

How many distinct memories do you have of being outside when it snows?

As a native of Stockholm I would had said I have lost count.

Perhaps the worst misconception is the belief that heavy snow means year-round snow.  The trouble is if the snow never melted the land would be so drowned in snow that it would become uninhabitable.  What I mean is nearly nothing being able to grow due to almost all water freezing.  The snow gradually compresses into ice which can grow 1.5 – 4 kilometres (1 – 2½) miles thick.  This is how the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland formed.

Unfortunately, the geographically ignorant mixes up those with areas actually staying snow-free for months a year.  Heavy snow is common in some of these areas.  It occasionally happens in even milder places like the one where I live.  This photo was taken from my bedroom window on the 3rd of February 2019:



This was right after a blizzard which dumped exceptional amounts of snow on the area.  I took the chance to record the temperature which was -6°C (21°F).  High-speed winds are necessary for the snow to stick to the brick wall in the background which happens less than once a year.  However, one can expect it to snow at least several times between November and Mars each year.

On the 5th of August 2019 the same view looked like this:



I recorded the temperature that day as 22°C (72°F).  This photo was taken in the hope of showing it to demonstrate the seasonality of where I live.  Our winters can be hash to the insufficiently prepared.  But our summers are warm enough to grow wheat.  I know this because I have seen wheat fields in the area.

A less severe misconception is believing snow to always have the same texture.  In reality snow naturally have varying density.  It depends on the temperature when it forms and if parts of it has melted and refrozen.  Under some weather conditions it can also form a stiff crust.  I have experienced this phenomenon myself.  Such a crust makes it considerably easier to use skis and snowshoes.

Then there is the error of expecting water to tickle out of snow when it melts.  Unlike ice, snow is porous enough to initially absorb its own meltwater.  The snow then appears to shrink before starting to give off water.  Also, soot can form on snow if one holds it close to a flame.  However, this soot comes from the fuel used to create the flame in the first place.

Related to this is expecting snow and ice to always melt at the same rate.  To me this is very obviously not the case.  How fast ice and snow melts depends on several factors.  One is size as a greater masses change temperature slower.  Another is density as denser snow melt more slowly.  It follows that ice melts more slowly than snow.  Moreover, it matters what the ice or snow is in contact with.  Different substances transfer heat with various efficiency.  Ice or snow which mostly come into contact with air melts the slowest.

Snow is so associated with cold it is believed to not naturally snow above freezing.  I have seen it snowing above freezing many times without anyone here calling it abnormal.  What matters is not the temperature at the ground but the temperature of the cloud creating precipitation.  Most snow-clouds are at least 500 meters (1,600 feet) above ground.  Since temperature decreases with altitude this can mean the clouds are several degrees colder.  When the temperature at the ground is a little above freezing it can still snow.  Unless it falls on snow or ice which has not melted yet it melts as soon as it has reached the ground.


Uploaded on the 10th of May 2024.