Feb 05 , 2014

Changing Formation; From Water to Snowflakes!

Depending on the part of the country in which one lives, the presence of snow may be either a unique phenomenon or a regular occurrence. Regardless of ones personal attitudes towards snow, there is no question that it is not only stunningly beautiful, but also quite amazing from a structural perspective. Individuals who are interested in learning more about snow should first understand why all snowflakes are six-sided. In addition, having a basic understanding as to how snowflakes are formed, and why all snow is not in the form of flakes can also be useful for individuals interested in learning more about this fascinating topic. Consultation with meteorologists or professors who study the topic can also be an effective way to gain additional information about the concept of snowflake formation.

Why are snowflakes all 6-sided?

When it comes to the study of snowflakes, understanding why these tiny works of art are always six-sided is a common question. To completely comprehend this question, individuals who are interested in the formation of snowflakes must possess a good deal of knowledge in the realm of chemistry. Snowflakes are traditionally formed from water vapor, which is composed of two hydrogen atoms that are tightly bound to a single oxygen molecule. During the proper weather conditions, individual vapor molecules are attracted to each other, and bond together eventually positioning themselves into a hexagonal group that pulls even more water vapor molecules into the formation. Therefore, it is the unique individual components of a snowflake namely, the water vapor molecules that lead to the development of a six-sided snowflake. If different compounds were included in a traditional snowflake, the shape that we most closely associate with this treasure might be drastically altered.

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How are snowflakes formed?

As the old adage goes, no two snowflakes are exactly alike. While this statement was once considered to be a simple proverb, recent research has proven it to be quite accurate in fact, there is no such thing as two snowflakes which are completely identical. This phenomenon is primarily due to the method in which typical snowflakes are formed. As described above, the construction of a snowflake begins when individual water vapor molecules are attracted to each other, forming their basic hexagonal shape. In most cases, this early stage of snowflake formation occurs in clouds, which feature the perfect atmospheric humidity and vapor pressure conditions. After formation, the basic snowflakes tumble throughout the clouds, where they have the potential for attracting additional water vapor molecules. In contrast, some basic snowflakes may begin to melt as they move through the cloud, eventually refreezing to form a shape completely different from that in which they started. Depending on the specific weather conditions present on the day in which the snowflake was formed, the final shape of snowflakes is likely to be drastically different. The constant change in weather patterns, therefore, is the factor primarily responsible for differences in the shape and formation of snowflakes.

Why isn't all snow in the form of flakes?

Not all water vapor molecules will fall to the ground as snowflakes. In fact, research has found that the most intricately formed snowflakes require a combination of very cold temperatures, along with clouds that are located very high in the atmosphere. In contrast, warm temperatures and lower-lying clouds may result in the production of snowflakes that are flatter, and smooth with a less-branched appearance. When the temperature increases even more dramatically, water vapor molecules will not fall in the shape of snowflakes at all but rather as rain droplets. This traditionally occurs when temperatures are above freezing, or approximately 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Other forms of water vapor that wont fall as snowflakes include sleet, which is rain that freezes as it falls to the ground, freezing rain, which is very cold vapor molecules that form ice as they come into contact with sturdy surfaces, and graupel, which are unique, very delicate snow pellets that form as super cooled water droplets forms into snowflakes. Obviously, these changes in weather patterns produce dramatic differences in the water vapors produced high in the atmosphere. Climates that are not prone to some of the extremes listed above may not get to experience certain types of inclement winter weather.

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