Sunday, December 16, 2007

Let it snow, let it graupel, let it stellar dendrite!

December 16th and Indianapolis has been wrapped with a fresh blanket of snow. Southeastway Park is gorgeous with trees branches dusted in white powder. Sledders are out in droves and memories of childhood have come streaming back.

I LOVE snow. Not to drive in it, but I love to look at it and play in it. Being a very active child, my parents encouraged me to be outside as much as possible to keep their sanity. Since we had two blizzards during my childhood, one in January, 1977 and one in January, 1978 , snow became a big part of my outdoor winter fun. We had an awesome sledding hill out behind the house. My place was very popular whenever it snowed and I will have to admit I took full advantage of my power and status in the neighborhood. If you didn't play nice, you had to leave the winter wonderland and miss out on the sled racing and ramp jumping festivities. I was a benevolent host and most kids were welcomed to my yard, except for mean old Conan, the bully, who pushed me down face first in the snow.

The old sledding hill. No, not really, but as a kid I THOUGHT it was that big!

I loved making snowmen, snow forts and enjoyed a good snowball fight. My older cousins had snowmobiles and when we visited my grandparents' farm, they would hitch an inner tube to the snowmobile with a long cord. They raced at top speeds across the fields with the inner tube and occupants bouncing all over the place. Talk about a thrill!

At the time, I only thought of snow as great fun. I had never heard of graupel, a type of snow, or knew anything about stellar dendrites and sectored plates. But as a naturalist, I now realize how complex and delicate each snow crystal can be. Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley (1865-1931) was the first person to photograph snowflakes or snow crystals at the young age of nineteen. His mother had given him a microscope for his fifteenth birthday and he was fascinated with snow. He would look at the crystals under the microscope and try to draw them, but they would melt. He then convinced his parents that he needed a camera, an expensive luxury in that day and age. Over his lifetime, Bentley published sixty articles on snow, dew, frost and raindrops. In 1931, Snow Crystals, a book with 2,435 illustrations was published. He died that same year from pneumonia.

Wilson A Bentley in 1925

Here are a few of the wonderful photos Bentley and others have perfected. Stunning, these give one a new appreciation for the white stuff. A link to the Bentley Snow Crystal Collection by the Buffalo Museum of Science can be found here. Another fascinating website on snow crystals is .
Bentley Photos

Sectored Plate

Stellar Dendrite

Triangular Crystal

Get outside, enjoy that snow and, if you can, take a kid with you. They will love it and just maybe you will, too! I know I sure did (and still do)!


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