Sing along to “Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!” when winter arrives. However, Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate.
In order for snow to fall, specific weather conditions must be present. This includes moisture in the air, particularly at higher altitudes, where it can freeze and fall to the ground as precipitation. The temperature must also be cold enough for the moisture to crystallize into snowflakes instead of raindrops.
Occasionally, it may be below freezing at ground level, yet rain falls instead of snow. Why does this happen? Even if it’s cold where you are, the temperature higher up in the atmosphere may be much warmer, causing the moisture to fall as rain rather than snow.
On the other hand, it may be above freezing at ground level, but you may see beautiful snowflakes falling outside your window. This indicates that the upper atmosphere is likely much colder.
The individuals who manage ski resorts know firsthand how unpredictable Mother Nature can be. They strive to provide optimal skiing conditions for as long as possible, and this requires abundant snowfall!
Unfortunately, the weather conditions aren’t always favorable for snow. This led some innovative individuals to invent a snowmaking machine back in 1950. Although many refer to this artificial snow as “fake,” it is actually produced using a similar process to natural snow.
Snowmaking machines employ water and compressed air to release small water droplets into the air. As these droplets encounter cold air, they freeze into ice crystals that fall to the ground as snow. Thus, even if there isn’t enough moisture in the air for natural snowfall, machines can produce snow on demand!
However, the temperature still needs to be cold enough for the water droplets to crystallize into snowflakes. Machines must also replicate the natural snow formation process as closely as possible. When real snow falls, dust and other particles in the air aid in the crystallization process. Modern snow machines spray these same types of particles into the air, along with the water droplets, to facilitate snow crystal formation.
Of course, it is still possible to create something resembling snow even without sufficiently cold temperatures. In warm regions, ice is sometimes broken into small pieces and blown into the air to simulate snow.
Contemporary ski slopes often feature expensive snowmaking machines that require millions of dollars and extensive underground networks of water and compressed air pipes. These machines can be used year-round to supplement natural snowfall and maintain a consistent snow level.
However, skiing professionals argue that although manmade snow is produced in a similar manner to natural snow, it is still different. They claim that manmade snow tends to pack together more densely and becomes icy more quickly. This may benefit ski racers, but those who prefer skiing on fresh powder argue that it’s just not the same!
Producing manmade snow can also be incredibly costly, both in terms of finances and resources. It can take up to 200,000 gallons of water and cost over $2,000 to cover one acre of land with one foot of snow.
Give It a Try
Are you prepared to have fun in the snowy weather? Make sure to explore the following activities with a companion:
- Interested in creating your own artificial snow at home? Get a friend or family member to join you in these enjoyable science experiments. Make sure to carefully read the instructions beforehand, as you might need to buy a few supplies from the store. + Make Fake Snow + How To Make Artificial Snow
- What do you love to do on a snowy day? When you wake up and find out that there’s no school, the possibilities are endless. Create a list of all the things that would make a perfect snowy day. Stick the list on the refrigerator so that you can refer to it the next time you have a snow day!
- Imagine yourself as a scientist assigned with the task of saving money for ski resorts. You are aware of the high costs involved in producing artificial snow. The expenses include water, compressed air, and the energy required to operate the machines. How can these costs be reduced? Is there a more efficient way to produce artificial snow? Brainstorm some ideas and share them with a friend or family member!
Sources of Wonder
- http://adventure.howstuffworks.com/outdoor-activities/snow-sports/snow-maker.htm (accessed 18 Dec. 2018)
- http://pubs.acs.org/cen/whatstuff/stuff/8203snow.html (accessed 18 Dec. 2018)
- http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/who-made-that-artificial-snow.html?_r=0 (accessed 18 Dec. 2018)