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Can It Be Too Cold To Snow? Not Really

It’s supposed to be cold in winter, but when it’s colder than normal, it’s often said that the tradeoff for the cold temperatures is that at least it’s too cold to snow. But can it really be too cold to snow?

While people might often say it's too cold to snow, there really is no such thing. The only low-end temperature at which snow is impossible is absolute zero, which is the lowest theoretical temperature. How cold is absolute zero? Probably colder than you can comprehend: 459.67 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

 

Words to know

Atmosphere: The layer of gasses surrounding Earth and other planets.

Comprehend: To understand.

Infuse: To fill or permeate.

 

If it were true that it can be too cold to snow, it probably wouldn't snow much in Yakutsk, Russia, where the average daily high temperature in January is 28.4 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Despite the frigid winter weather, it does snow in Yakutsk. In fact, Yakutsk receives an annual snowfall of about 24.49 inches. Yakutsk isn't quite as snowy as the Chicago area, with an annual snowfall of 40-plus inches, but it's safe to say it isn't too cold to snow in the Arctic regions of Russia.


The reason it can't be too cold to snow is because moisture is a more important factor than temperature in the development of snow. This explains why certain locations experience lake-effect snow. The lake can infuse moisture into the atmosphere, creating snow when it otherwise wouldn't occur. Sometimes, heavy lake-effect snow can be falling in one place while it's a bright, sunny winter day just a short distance away.


While it can't ever be too cold to snow, it does not often snow when temperatures are below zero. Most heavy snowfall occurs when temperatures are 15 degrees Fahrenheit or above at ground level. Heavy snow isn't common at lower temperatures because the air is too dry to produce enough snow to fall down to our level.


When the air is cold, snow crystals still form, but they don't develop into large flakes because there isn't enough water in the atmosphere. These tiny crystals may fall to the Earth, but they often evaporate before they reach the ground.


The water content of snow can vary based on factors such as temperature, wind and ice content in snow-producing clouds. Light, fluffy snow contains much less water than heavy, wet snow.


The amount of water in snow is called the snow ratio. A ratio of 10-to-1 is often used as a standard for snow. This means that every 10 inches of snowfall equals 1 inch of liquid water. However, actual snowfalls typically vary greatly from this 10-to-1 ratio. At colder temperatures, the snow ratio is higher than 10-to-1, and the colder it gets, the higher the snow ratio.

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