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17 surprising facts about snow

Here’s a blizzard of brrillliant snow-driven facts…


Whether you love frolicking in the white stuff at the first sign of a snowflake or prefer bundling up and hibernating until the spring thaw, or even if you’ve only ever dreamed of touching a snowball, here’s a blizzard of brrillliant snow-driven facts…


Snow is not white


Mind blown. You can certainly dream of a white Christmas, even if it isn’t strictly accurate. As any good snow pedant will tell you, the ‘white stuff’ isn’t actually white, but rather translucent. It’s the light reflecting off it that makes it appear white with the many sides of the snowflake scattering light in many directions, diffusing the entire colour spectrum. Snow can also appear in a wide variety of spectacular hues. Dust, pollution or cold-loving (cryophilic) fresh-water algae can colour it black, orange or blue. Pink or ‘watermelon snow’, caused by algae containing astaxanthin, a chemical similar to the one found in carrots, was mentioned in the early writings of Aristotle.

没想到吧。你当然可以想象圣诞节的时候到处都是白茫茫的一片,即使严格意义上这种想法并不准确。任何研究雪花的人都会告诉你,所谓的“白色”并不是真正的白色,而是半透明的。是阳光的反射作用让透明的雪花看起来是白色,而且雪花是多边形,会从多个角度反射光线,从而散射整个色谱。雪花还可以呈现多种不同的色彩。灰尘、污染或是喜爱寒冷的淡水水藻可以把雪花变成黑色、橙色或者蓝色的。粉色的雪花也被称为“西瓜雪花(watermelon snow)”,最早记载于亚里士多德的作品中,这种雪花的颜色是含有虾青素的藻类造成的,虾青素类似胡萝卜里含有的某种化学物质。

Snowflakes of many designs


One of the determining factors in the shape of individual snowflakes is the air temperature around it. The study of flakes has identified that long, thin needle-like ice crystals form at around -2 C (28 F), while a lower temperature of -5 C (23 F) will lead to very flat plate-like crystals. Further changes in temperature as the snowflake falls determines different shapes of the six arms or dendritic structure of the crystal.


A catalogue of snowflakes


Creator of the Compound Interest science blog, Andy Brunning, has painstakingly catalogued 35 different types of snowflake (plus a few other types of frozen precipitation). They are designated as column, plane, rimed, germs, irregular plus a number of combinations of all of them.

科普博客“多种兴趣”(Compound Interest)的创始人布鲁宁(Andy Brunning)已经精心将雪花分为35类(还有一些其它类型的冻雨)。分类的依据主要看雪花是否是柱状的、平面状的、镶边的、带芽的、不规则的或包含上述多种特征。

Grown from a nucleus


Snowflakes or snow crystals don’t have nuclei in the traditional, biological way (that contains genetic information), but they all do form around one single particle whether that’s a speck of dust or a piece of pollen. This makes it completely different from sleet (which consists of frozen raindrops) or hail (which is sleet droplets that collect water as they fall). This original piece of material that formed the flake can be detected using a powerful microscope.


Snowflakes get big


For decades there have been stories of giant snowflakes falling all over the globe, measuring anywhere from two to six and even, on one occasion, 15 inches across. While many have doubted these reports and pointed out the lack of corroborating evidence, scientists now claim there’s nothing to stop flakes growing that big. As flake size isn’t part of the meteorological measuring designations for snow, these massive flakes may well be out there, but just unreported, unseen or broken up by wind currents as they descend.

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Snow affects sound


Freshly fallen snow absorbs sound waves, giving everything a seemingly hushed, quieter ambience after a flurry. But if the snow then melts and refreezes, the ice can reflect sound waves making sound travel further and clearer.


There are hundreds of words for it


It’s often stated that the Inuit have 50 words for snow, a fact that was discredited as pure speculation, and then confirmed as roughly accurate. No matter how many they actually have, it pales in comparison to the Scots. Researchers at the University of Glasgow claim that the Scots language has 421 terms related to the white stuff, including ‘skelf’ (a large snowflake), ‘spitters’ (small drops of driving snow) and ‘unbrak' (the beginning of a thaw).


It’s hard to define


Speaking of language, you must be careful if you’re ever tempted to refer to a snowstorm as a ‘blizzard’. Snowfalls must meet a strict set of stipulations to be considered a blizzard. Visibility must be below 200m while the wind has to reach speeds of around 48kmp (30mph).

说到语言,如果你曾经试图将大型降雪(snowstorm)称为“暴风雪”(blizzard),你一定要小心。必须达到严格的规定,降雪才能被视为暴风雪。 能见度必须低于200米,而风速必须达到48公里/小时(30英里/小时)左右。

Snow on Mars


According to Nasa’s scientific simulations (corroborated by remote robots on the planet’s surface), during the summer in the north of Mars there may well be sudden, violent snow storms. We know there are clouds and subsurface ice on Mars, so snow is certainly plausible. Scientists also detected a cloud of carbon dioxide snowflakes over the southern pole of the planet.

根据美国国家航空航天局的科学模拟(由火星表面的远程机器人佐证),在火星北部的夏季,可能会出现突如其来的大型降雪。 我们知道火星上有云和地下冰层,所以下雪肯定是合理的。科学家还在火星的南极发现了一团二氧化碳雪花。

Monkeys love it


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Don’t think for a second we are the only mammals to enjoy a good snowball fight. Japanese macaques, also know as ‘snow monkeys’ have been observed making and playing with balls of snow. Young macaques appear to enjoy stealing each others snowballs, then battling to retrieve them.


Too much snow isn’t good for you


Spend too much time on the slopes and you could suffer from piblokto or ‘Arctic hysteria’, a disorder affecting Inuit people living within the Arctic circle. Symptoms include meaningless verbal repetition or performing irrational or dangerous acts, followed by amnesia of the event. Vitamin A toxicity is thought to be one source of the disorder, though in recent years researchers have questioned whether the illness, thought to be based on as little as eight cases, actually exists at all.


Afraid of snowfall


One psychological condition that definitely exists is chionophobia, or a fear of snow, deriving from ‘chion' the Greek word for snow. While the phenomena can develop due to a childhood trauma involving snowy accident, there are more irrational variations where people develop an acute fear of becoming trapped or buried in snow if there isn’t a flake in sight or at the first sign of a flutter.


Snow rock stars


The great explorer Ernest Shackleton was renowned for his bravery, intrepid spirit and loyalty to his comrades. But the contents of his medical kit during the Nimrod Expedition sounds more like the rider for a 70s rock band than a polar exploration. Colic was treated with cannabis, diarrhoea sufferers enjoyed the delights of opium while those stricken with snow blindness, a temporary loss of vision due to overexposure to the sun's UV rays, would have cocaine dripped directly into the eye.

伟大的冒险家沙克尔顿(Ernest Shackleton)因勇敢无畏、忠于伙伴而闻名于世。不过他在尼姆罗德考察(Nimrod Expedition)时携带的医药箱让他们更像70年代的摇滚乐团,而不是极地探险团队。毫无原因哭闹的人会被用大麻治疗,腹泻的人则用鸦片。那些由于长期暴露在紫外线中、暂时失去视觉而得雪盲症的人的治疗方法则是直接将可卡因滴入眼中。

A yodel won’t cause an avalanche


There are a number of factors that can trigger an avalanche, but noise isn’t one of them. Weight is a much more important contributor. A sudden deluge of snow, an increase in wind speed or even the over-zealous footstep of a skier can trigger a sudden, deadly, cascade. But a loud burst of terrible singing, that won’t have much of an effect.


Snow warms you up


Because snow is comprised of 90 to 95 percent trapped air, it means it’s a great insulator. This is the reason many animals burrow deep into the snow during winter in order to hibernate. It’s also the reason that igloos, that use only body heat to warm them, can be 100 degrees warmer inside than outside.


It’s adaptable


Usually, the air temperature needs to be around the freezing mark for snow to form, but if rain falls for long enough it can cool the air around it as it falls and eventually create the right environment to produce flakes. So the temperature can be as high as 6°C on the ground and snow can still be falling.

通常情况下,空气温度需要在冰点左右才能形成雪,但如果降雨时间长,导致周围的空气温度降低,也会形成适合降雪的环境。 因此即使地面温度可能高达6摄氏度,仍然可能降雪。

Speedy snowflakes


Snowflakes can fall at a speed anywhere between a leisurely one to a breakneck 14kmp (9mph), depending on the environmental conditions in the air as they drop. Snowflakes gathering water as they fall and wind direction can speed up the descent. It takes roughly an hour for a flake to leave its cloud and reach the ground.

雪花的下落速度可以悠闲缓慢,也可能高达14公里/小时(9英里/小时),具体取决于当时空中的环境条件。 雪花一边下落一边凝集水分,而风向也可以加速下降。 雪花片从离开云层到到达地面大约需要一个小时。



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