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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
Snowflake Touring -- Northern Ontario

   As a resident of Southern California, I have to go travel to photograph snowflakes.  Over the years this has turned into a long-term winter adventure of mine, and I've found most definitely that different locations serve up different kinds of snow crystals. 

   Northern Ontario is an excellent region for snowflake hunting, and I've taken many trips there and got thousands of pictures.  The climate in the northeast parts of the province is especially ideal for producing excellent stellar snow crystals -- it's good and cold, it snows frequently, and usually there is little or no wind.

   The town of Cochrane (see arrow in the map above) is one of my favorite spots, and I've visited many times to photograph snowflakes.  The population is around 5000, and it's quite a friendly place.  The first picture on the left shows the view across (frozen) Lake Commando, at a favorite sliding hill in the middle of town.  The second picture shows the main business section of town.
   You might think from the map that this should be called central Ontario, not northern Ontario.  But in fact the region around Cochrane and Hearst is about as far north as you can drive in the province.  Air Canada takes you as far as Timmins (see map), which is a substantially larger town than Cochrane.

   My kids don't see much snow, so a trip to the frozen north is quite an experience.  Even scraping the ice off the car can be fun!

   Being from a warm climate, my kids haven't quite figured out the basic principles of cold weather -- like the concept that a t-shirt might not be quite enough to keep you warm.

   One morning I got up to greet the rising sun (which is not too hard in northern Ontario, since sunrise in January might be around 9am) and witnessed an excellent light pillar, shown at left.  My thumb is blocking the sun, and the vertical streaks above and below are caused by ice crystals in the air.  Even though the sky was clear, tiny ice crystals were growing and falling -- an example of snow without clouds.
   These small, plate-like crystals tend to orient themselves as they fall, so their broad faces are nearly parallel to the ground.  The facets partially reflect the sunlight, each individual crystal acting like a tiny mirror.  You have to think about it for a minute, but when the air is filled with countless tiny, nearly horizontal reflectors, you will see vertical streaks like those in the picture.  Note that the streak below my thumb comes from fairly nearby crystals, so the streak lies in front of the darker backgrounds.  If you look carefully, you can see sparkles from individual ice crystals in the lower streak. 
   Ice crystals cause all sorts of interesting optical phenomena, and you can read more at Ice Crystal Halos

   The first picture at left shows one of my better locations for snowflake photography.  My car is on the south side of the building, which nicely blocks the north winds.  The overhead deck provides more shelter, and there is a convenient outlet nearby.  The second picture gives a better view of my snowflake camera inside my rented SUV.

  The best snow for snow crystal photography comes from low clouds that practically hug the ground, as in the first picture at left.  If the crystals form too high, then they tend to sublimate before they reach the ground.  Crystals forming near the ground have sharper facets.
   Large snowflakes (second picture) appear when the snowfall is heavy.  Lighter snowfalls tend to bring better crystals.

   On one of my family trips to Ontario we caught a train, called the Polar Bear Express,  from Cochrane to Moosonee (see the map above).  The town of Moose Factory is right across James Bay, and travel between towns is mostly via snowmobile.  The picture at the far right shows the back end of a snowmobile "taxi". 
   The snow crystals weren't so great in Moosonee, at least in my limited experience.  I've found that the best crystals are not often found near large bodies of salt water.  The water just keeps the air temperatures too high, even as far north as James Bay.

   The air can be amazingly clear in the frozen north.  It's almost hard to believe that the sun is behind the lamp post in the first picture at right (which you can tell from the shadows).
   Logging trucks are a common sight in northern Ontario.  If you ever think the world is running out of trees, go for a ride on the Polar Bear Express.  The boreal forests go on for hundreds of miles in all directions, with barely any signs of civilization.

The first picture above, taken at the Sault Ste. Marie airport, demonstrates just how much the Canadians like their snow crystals. 
   The next two pictures show ice crystals my wife lifted from the shore of Lake Superior during our stay in Sault Ste. Marie.  Note the dendritic structure and how the branches form at 60-degree angles.  These crystals grew from liquid water (at the surface of the lake), but show some features that are similar to snow crystals.

Return to was created by Kenneth G. Libbrecht, Caltech
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