“Have You Visited the Storehouse of the Snow?”
AS THE fire burned warmly inside, quietly and gently a white blanket had begun to cover the house and the earth. It was snowing. For some, moments like these cause the mind to search for an answer to a question posed centuries ago: “Have you visited the storehouse of the snow?” (Job 38:22, The New English Bible) Even to this day, snow—its origin, flake growth, and design—staggers the mind of scientists.
But what is this fluffy stuff, really? Simply put, snow is a clustering of ice crystals crafted from the water vapor in the air. Temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure help sculpture the beautifully symmetrical shapes of ice crystals. When the temperature near the ground is above 32° F. (0° C.) snow may reach us as rain. But if the temperature is below 32° F., the tiny crystals will clump together to form a snowflake.
But there must be something that the moisture can be formed around, something that acts as a “seed.” What can be used? Any microscopic particles floating in the air will do—dust, salt, or even pollution. Around these nuclei, ice crystals will grow into flat six-pointed stars, hexagonal pillars, or sparkling needles. As snow tumbles slowly earthward from as high as six miles (10 km), it may collide with other crystals and stick to them, or it may shatter, forming more “seeds” for more crystals.
Is Each Snowflake Unique?
Here are two statistics that may surprise you: A cubic foot (.028 cu m) of snow may contain 10 million snowflakes. And it has been estimated that up to one half of the earth’s land surface and 10 percent of the sea, about 48 million square miles (124 million sq km), may at times be under this wintry blanket. With all that snow, is it possible that no two snowflakes are alike? Yes!
To try to understand why, let us consider just one more set of facts. Millions of water molecules, which can be arranged in many different ways, may form a single ice crystal. And it takes from one to more than a hundred of these ice crystals to make one snowflake. According to Charles Knight, physicist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, if you put all these numbers in a computer, you would find that there are still more possible combinations of molecules in each snowflake than there have been snowflakes in all earth’s history.
In addition, the air around a flake shapes its growth. As mentioned earlier, moisture, temperature, and barometric pressure sculpture snow. However, wind molds its shape too. All four factors may vary from moment to moment. Falling snow may pass through air masses of varying temperature. The wind may blow it through any number of temperature and humidity ranges in its downward journey. And since no two flakes are likely to follow the same path to earth, each one should indeed be unique.
Our “Thermal” Blanket
Just as many enjoy a soft, warm blanket on a cold winter night, the earth has its own winter blanket. Thanks to snow, the fluctuations in temperature of the soil are moderated. The soil holds in the heat it had absorbed before it was covered. Thus seeds are protected and crops will grow for the next harvesttime.
The earth is not just insulated by the snow blanket, however; it is also fertilized. How so? Because of the vital nitrates that are deposited by the snow. In the 1970’s it was estimated that an average snowfall on prairie farms would deposit about $20 worth of nitrates per acre (.4 ha).
And did you know that snow is referred to as the most effective “dam” of any kind? The water is held back or stored in the form of snow. In this form it will wait until it is released by melting in the spring. Hence, snow holds back water as a dam does. Even then, thanks to its ability to reflect the sun’s rays, the snow will melt away slowly, and in this way much of the water will filter its way down into the soil instead of just flowing off.
Over 2,500 years ago, the Bible outlined these benefits of rain and snow by stating: “The pouring rain descends, and the snow . . . [and] actually saturates the earth and makes it produce and sprout, and seed is actually given to the sower and bread to the eater.” (Isaiah 55:10) Yes, for many of earth’s inhabitants, the water they drink and the food they eat, and even the electricity they use, may be directly or indirectly a result of tapping “the storehouse of the snow.”
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Have You Ever Wondered . . .
What color is snow?
“White,” most people would answer. Yet snow is transparent; it is clear. It is made up of billions of tiny prisms. As light passes through each crystal prism, it breaks up into all the colors of the rainbow. Our eye, not able to handle all this color at once, simply sums it up into its total—white.
Why is it that I get a sore back after shoveling snow when the flakes are so light and airy?
The weight of millions of flakes stacked one on another is considerable. For example, if you shoveled the snow from a sidewalk 50 feet long (15 m) and 5 feet wide (1.5 m) after a 15-inch snowfall (38 cm), you will have lifted about 2,000 pounds (900 kg) of snow!
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Ice crystals are all symmetrical and six-sided in shape, yet no two are alike