During the winter, sometimes we’ll associate cold with snow. But, have you looked closely at a snowflake before? Meteorologist Sabrina Bates answers the question “why are no two snowflakes alike?” on this week’s Science With Sabrina.
The reason why we know the six-sided shape of the snowflake is because of water molecules. The molecules connect together in the shape of a hexagon. The hexagon links together with other hexagons and grows outward.
The outside edges of the snowflake grow last, so when you look at it closely, you can tell what weather conditions it was in previously.
The next time it snows, head outside with a black piece of paper. When the snowflakes hit the paper, you'll be able to closely look at them and identify what kind it is. You'll be able to see individual flakes or even flakes that collided together.
Temperature and humidity are the main factors that affect the exact shape of the flake. Low humidity forms simple plates. Higher humidity forms more complex structures. Temperatures near freezing will form larger flakes since it can hold more moisture. As the temperature drops, flakes with less branches are more common.
For example, around 28 degrees, thin plates and stars grow. At 23 degrees, columns and needle shapes form. At negative 22 degrees, there's a combination of plates and columns.
But, it's more complicated than that. The atmosphere is turbulent allowing for the arms of a flake to change shape. So, no matter how much you replicate the temperature and humidity, no two snowflakes will be exactly the same.
A good hands-on example for kids is to cut out snowflakes from a piece of paper. We all did this growing up. You know that no matter how many times you try to make it the same, it usually ends up looking a little different.
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