Snowflake types and how they’re made

Weather Whys

Have you ever held your hand out to catch snowflakes just to look at them? You’ll notice that no two are the same. We have 35 different types of snowflakes… and they form from different atmospheric conditions but each one of these is very temperature dependant.

They begin as a tiny dust or pollen particle in the clouds which acts as a nucleus for the snowflake to build off of…. they can’t form without that nucleus. As they fall, they encounter water vapor in the air and continue to grow their crystal-like structure. The warmer the temperature, the more moisture content, and the more intricate the detail. When it’s extremely cold, the snowflakes are usually smaller and drier.

Some of the more common snowflake types are thin plates, needles, hollow columns, stellar plates, and dendrites. It’s the dendrites that quite often get recreated in art and are what many think of when they think of snowflakes.

Thin plates form best in the mid-20s to lower 30s. Needles form best in the lower 20s. Hollow columns form best between 14 and 21 degrees. Stellar plates from 10 to 14 degrees… and those beautiful dendrite snowflakes form best in single digits. When we get colder than this, quite often you’re going back to the smaller needle-type snowflake.

A few fun facts to take with you and impress your friends – or kids with…
Snowflakes always have six sides. This has to do with how water molecules form together.
I mentioned earlier that no two snowflakes are alike… that’s because they’ll always have different paths from the clouds to the ground. So they’ll each encounter different atmospheric conditions while they’re forming.

The largest snowflake ever recorded was found near us in Montana. That was on January 28th of 1887 in Fort Keogh, Montana. Which is the western edge of modern-day Miles City. It came in at 15 inches wide and 8 inches thick.

So the next time it snows, you’ll know a little more about how those snowflakes form and just how rare each one can be.

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