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The Science of Snowflakes

Posted by Kristi Brekhus on 7th Dec 2018

There are few things on this earth that are as recognizable and iconic as the snowflake. The whimsical and often very beautiful patterns have fascinated us for decades…and we often wonder, “causes a snowflake to the look the way it does?”

The final shape of a snowflake tells you the journey it’s taken from inside the cloud, where it’s born, to landing on your shoulder.

Although the most common term is “snowflake” scientists prefer to call them “snow crystals”. The process in which a snow crystal forms begins with water vapor inside a cloud. The water vapor condenses and freezes onto the surface of a crystal seed, which acts as the nucleus of the crystal, and begins to create a pattern. The water molecules cause the snow crystal’s iconic hexagon, however, the two deciding factors in a snow crystal’s resulting shape and pattern are temperature and humidity. If the temperature or humidity level changes, the crystal will grow a different pattern.

Looking at the resulting snow crystal, you can tell how the humidity and temperature changed along it’s journey. The outside edge of the crystal is the newest growth and as you look inward, you can see what other conditions in endured.

So, yes, it is true. No two snowflakes (or snow crystals) are alike.