By Faith W.

Snow. A bittersweet part of our lives in Buffalo. Whether you love it, hate it, or you land somewhere in between, as I do, you have possibly wondered about the science behind snow. What conditions are needed for it to form? How are snowflakes unique? Why does it hang over my roof and not fall? Alas, I can tell you!

Buffalo’s City Hall during a snowstorm this past year. / Zachary Todtenhagen

The atmosphere needs just the right amount of moisture in the air for clouds and snow to form. The heavier the snowfall, the more moisture is needed, so snow can be continuously produced. The atmospheric temperature also must be at or below freezing (0℃ or 32℉). Snow will only stick to the ground when it is freezing temperatures, but sometimes it will stick anyway, due to the state of the ground, amount of snow, etc. 

We all have probably heard the fact that all snowflakes are unique, but how true is that? On an atomic level, they all are made up of hydrogen and oxygen. However, in terms of shape, snowflakes are all different from one another. Their shapes evolve as it falls from clouds, so no two could ever be identical. The basic shape of a snowflake depends on factors such as temperature and the moisture level.

The technical name for a buildup of snow and ice hanging over a roof is ice dam. They form as a result of the warmer temperatures of your house melting the snow. The water, then, refreezes and builds up on the edge of your roof. 

Although freezing water is one of the most widely known instances of science, snow truly is one of the most beautiful phenomena in winter. There’s nothing quite like stepping on freshly fallen snow and listening to the crunch beneath your boots. The mystery of snow is uncovered. Science—there’s an explanation for everything.

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