snotitle.jpg (19016 bytes)

grow.gif (10037 bytes) Home
Natural Snowflakes
  --Photo Gallery I
  --Photo Gallery II
  --Photo Gallery III
  --Guide to Snowflakes
  --Snowflake Books
  --Historic Snowflakes
  --Ice Crystal Halos
  --Snowflake Store
Designer Snowflakes
  --I: First Attempts
  --II: Better Snowflakes
  --III: Precision Snow
  --Snowflake Movies
  --Free-falling Snow
  --Designer's Page
Frost Crystals
  --Guide to Frost
  --Frost Photos
Snowflake Physics
  --Snowflake Primer
  --Snow Crystal FAQs
  --No Two Alike?
  --Crystal Faceting
  --Snowflake Branching
  --Electric Growth
  --Ice Properties
  --Myths and Nonsense
Snow Activities
  --Snowflake Watching
  --Photographing Snow
  --Make Your Own
  --Snowflake Fossils
  --Ice Spikes
  --Activities for Kids
Snowflake Touring
  --Snowflake Hot Spots
  --Northern Ontario
  --Hokkaido, Japan (2) (3)
  --Michigan U. P.
  --California Mountains
Copyright Issues
In Search of Snowflakes
   ... Where do you go to see the best snow crystals? ...
   Do different kinds of snowflakes fall in different places?  Are mountain snowflakes different from those at lower elevations?   Where do you go to see the highest quality snowflakes? 
   We actually don't know the answers to these questions, at least not in much detail.  Although we have many decades of weather data telling us how much snow falls in different places, there is almost no information about what kinds of snowflakes fall.
Where the Snow Falls

canadamapx.jpg (7219 bytes)snowmap1x.gif (9346 bytes)   If you want to see some beautiful snowflakes, it stands to reason that you want a place where it snows often.   Snowfall maps, like these provide some detailed information on the quantity of snowfall in North America, so we at least have an idea where to start.  The U.S. map is from The Snow Booklet and the Canadian map is from the Atlas of Canada.

   Snowfall quantity is not the whole story, however.  It snows a lot in the California mountains, as you can see from the map, but most of the snowflakes I've seen there are covered with rime (see Snowflake Touring -- California Mountains).  It's hard to say why that is, but one reason seems to be that the temperature is too warm.  Good snowflakes require cold weather.   Not just a degree or two below freezing, but some serious cold.
   Another example is upstate New York.  The area around Buffalo is known for some of the deepest snow in the country, but a closer look reveals that the crystals are often not so well formed.  Here again, the temperature is probably a bit too high, and it's also windy much of the time.

   Large lakes are often associated with frequent and substantial snowfalls, a phenomenon which is known as the lake effect.   It also appears that locations near large lakes are often good sites for observing large snow crystals.  Bentley's famous snow crystal pictures were almost all taken at Jericho, Vermont, which is near Lake Champlain.  

   Antarctica, and the South Pole in particular, is a very unique snow crystal observing spot.  The pole is very cold, very dry, and at high altitude, and snow crystals found there tend to be small, nearly perfect, hexagonal prisms.   The very low temperatures produces sharp crystal facets (no chance of melting), while the very slow growth tends to produce small solid prisms.  Large stellar dendrites are never found under such extreme conditions.

   There are certainly other good snow crystal locations, but we really don't know how good or why.  Nakaya took most of his photographs on the island of Hokkaido, Japan, and clearly found some excellent crystals.  Personally I'm partial to Great Plains regions, such as North Dakota or Manitoba -- precipitation levels are fairly high, and the cold winter temperatures allow well-formed crystals to reach the ground without melting.  So what about regions surrounding the Great Lakes?  or maybe spots in Alaska?  Scandinavia?  Siberia?  So far there's not a lot of data one way or the other.

   Is there a best spot for observing snow crystals, a snow crystal capitol of the world?  Only more observations will say, so please send me an e-mail and tell me what the snowflakes are like in your backyard.  .

Return to was created by Kenneth G. Libbrecht, Caltech
Comments?  Send an e-mail....
page views since February 1, 1999