Last winter I went outside with my dogs at 11PM for the last pee-outing of the day. It was snowing, and cold, and I dreaded that I had to go out. BUT THEN…. as I was outside I noticed that the snow looked particularly sparkly. I bent down to take a closer look, and was astounded at billions upon billions of individual snowflake crystals settling in layers upon the ground. They were many different shapes…. many perfect and unique flakes were easy to see. (Lots of pictures below~!)
Where we live in Pennsylvania, we often get a winter that some folks sarcastically call “wimper”. We don’t always get to appreciate these stunningly perfect flakes. But, I found that each snow storm that came last winter, if I would put out my arm, I would see wonderful little flakes settle upon my sleeve. And…. on the ground even more so. It was so marvelous, I literally cried at God’s extravagance. More than we can possibly take in. Piles upon piles of these lovely crystals getting buried under more generally ignored beauty.
Well, it is snowing again, right now. I just went out and enjoyed more snowflakes. Please join me this winter, if you live in or visit a snowy region, in rejoicing in the glory and wonder of snowflakes.
Here is a guide I have copied from Cal tech, featuring macro lens photos by Kenneth Libbrecht and Alexey Kljatov, so you can appreciate them a bit more:
Snow Flake Guide (from Cal Tech):
These common snowflakes are thin, plate-like crystals with six broad arms that form a star-like shape. Their faces are often decorated with amazingly elaborate and symmetrical markings.
Stellar plates often show distinctive ridges that point to the corners between adjacent prism facets. When these ridges are especially prominent, the crystals are called sectored plates.
Dendritic means “tree-like”, so stellar dendrites are plate-like snow crystals that have branches and sidebranches. These are fairly large crystals, typically 2-4 mm in diameter, that are easily seen with the naked eye.
Sometimes the branches of stellar crystals have so many sidebranches they look a bit like ferns, so we call them fernlike stellar dendrites. These are the largest snow crystals, often falling to earth with diameters of 5 mm or more. In spite of their large size, these are single crystals of ice — the water molecules are lined up from one end to the other.
Hexagonal columns often form with conical hollow regions in their ends, and such forms are called hollow columns. These crystals are small, so you need a good magnifier to see the hollow regions.
A hexagonal prism is the most basic snow crystal geometry (see the Snowflake Primer). Depending on how fast the different facets grow, snow crystal prisms can appear as thin hexagonal plates, slender hexagonal columns (shaped a lot like wooden pencils), or anything in between. Simple prisms are usually so small they can barely be seen with the naked eye.
Plates sometimes grow as truncated triangles when the temperature is near -2 C (28 F). If the corners of the plates sprout arms, the result is an odd version of a stellar plate crystal. These crystals are relatively rare.
The nucleation of an ice grain sometimes yields multiple crystals all growing together at random orientations. When the different pieces grow into columns, the result is called a bullet rosette. These polycrystals often break up to leave isolated bullet-shaped crystals.
Sometimes capped columns form with a twist, a 30-degree twist to be specific. The two end-plates are both six-branched crystals, but one is rotated 30 degrees relative to the other. This is a form of crystaltwinning, in which two crystals grow joined in a specific orientation.