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How Snow Forms

by Elena Emily on November 20, 2016

How Snow Forms

 

Image result for animated snowflakes glitter

 

 

Snow in the atmosphere

Scanning electron microscope image of snow crystals

Once snow crystals form in the atmosphere, they grow by absorbing surrounding water droplets. The snowflakes we end up seeing on the ground are an accumulation of these ice crystals. This magnified image of snow crystals was captured by a low-temperature scanning electron microscope (SEM). The pseudo colors commonly found in SEM images are computer generated, and in this case highlight the different flake formations.
—Credit: Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture

Whether winter storms produce snow relies heavily on temperature, but not necessarily the temperature we feel here on the ground. Snow forms when the atmospheric temperature is at or below freezing (0 degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit) and there is a minimum amount of moisture in the air. If the ground temperature is at or below freezing, the snow will reach the ground. However, the snow can still reach the ground when the ground temperature is above freezing if the conditions are just right. In this case, snowflakes will begin to melt as they reach this higher temperature layer; the melting creates evaporative cooling which cools the air immediately around the snowflake. This cooling retards melting. As a general rule, though, snow will not form if the ground temperature is at least 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit).

While it can be too warm to snow, it cannot be too cold to snow. Snow