Wondrous Winter Frost, Ice and Snow

Terry Krautwurst shares his view on how winter frost, ice and snow alter our lives, including scientific information on how water freezes and water's frozen beauty in nature.


| December 2001/January 2002



Frost on cabbage. Discover the wonder of winter frost, ice and snow.

Frost on cabbage. Discover the wonder of winter frost, ice and snow.

PHOTO: DAVID CAVAGNARO

Winter frost, ice and snow puts on a miraculous show in cold winter months.

Once or twice each winter, a miracle happened on the sloping, snow-covered wheat fields of my grandfather's western-New York farm. A rare warm day would send meltwater spilling into a wide, bowl-shaped swale of some 20 acres. That night, as the water nearest the soil seeped slowly into the earth, frigid air would quick-freeze the upper few inches. By morning the entire field was glazed with a vast, glistening pane of ice: flat, smooth and more than thick enough to hold an ear-muffed, scarf-wrapped boy atop a pair of hockey skates.

Like skating on air, that's the only way I can describe gliding across acres of open field on a transparent surface suspended several inches above ground. The field itself — stones and soil and wheat stubble and all — was clearly visible through the frozen window and air space below. And so I would spend my days, just me, the field, and the whir and click of skates, until a heavy snow or another sudden thaw undid the miracle.

In most parts of the country, such is the stuff of winter. Winter snow, ice and frost alter our lives in all sorts of ways, good and not-so-good, pleasurable and irksome. At the core of all this is neither snow, ice nor frost, but the true miracle, one of the most remarkable substances known to humankind: water.

In the presence of cold, water performs amazing feats. On its own, water cannot freeze. But given an anchor from which to build - a speck of dust, a snow crystal, a stone or a bit of leaf - water molecule near freezing will cluster, stretch out, break apart and gather again, like motivated, molecular square dancers, eventually forming structured groups. Needle-shaped crystals, spread outward on the surface of a pond or lake, forming a delicate, spiny skin which moves first from the edges toward the center, then thickens. Given a really cold, still day, you can hear ice hiss and crackle as it grows.

In the air, water crystals tumbling earthward transform themselves with each twist and turn, each tiny gust or temperature change. A six-sided star may suddenly grow lance-like arms; a hollow column may sprout a fringe of needles at one end, then break apart, seeding the sky with bits of ice from which more crystals will grow.

paul miller
12/17/2012 4:48:02 PM

It is good that the article mentions the creation, as we should not forget about our Creator who gave us the seasons and the snow.






mother earth news fair

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Feb. 17-18, 2018
Belton, Texas

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, hands-on workshops, and great food!

LEARN MORE