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Published: Sunday, December 22, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Snow: Fun facts, science and a record snowwoman

This column is covering interesting facts about snow, but let's get to the important information first: What is the record for the biggest snowman?
In this case, it's the biggest snowwoman: Bethel, Maine's Angus, King of the Mountain, was dethroned by Olympia SnowWoman in 2008 by the residents of Bethel. Coming in at 122 feet, 1 inch, Olympia weighed about 13 million pounds. The record was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records.
While adults and heavy equipment created the body, children painted five tires red that were used for the lips and created a carrot nose of wood framing, chicken wire and muslin.
Other touches included 16 skis for eyelashes, 5-foot wreaths for eyes, 2,000 feet of rope for hair and 30-foot spruce trees for arms.
Now for the science:
  • Tiny ice crystals fall and join with others to form a snowflake. Snowflakes have six sides although there has been a report of an exception.
  • Temperature affects how a snowflake forms, which results in unique shapes, some of which are called hexagonal plate, irregular column, stellar plate or spatial dendrites.
  • The size of a snowflake depends on how many crystals hook together. Most snowflakes are about 1/2-inch across.
  • According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest recorded snowflakes were 15 inches across and 8 inches thick, and fell at Fort Keogh, Mont., in 1887. A rancher described the flakes as "larger than mild pans."
  • Although falling snow has been recorded at minus-41 Celsius (-41.8 Fahrenheit), it can be too cold to snow if there's not enough moisture in the air.
  • An average snowflake falls at 3.1 mph. Billions fall during a short snowstorm.
  • Snowstorms with 35 mph or more winds, visibility 1/4-mile or less and last at least three hours are called blizzards. Anything less is a just a snowstorm.
  • Snowflakes are clear and colorless. They appear white because visible light is reflected, and what light that is absorbed is done so uniformly over the wavelength of visible light, thus appearing white.
  • When coal heated homes and factories, coal dust in the air was absorbed by clouds and led to gray snow.
  • Snowflakes often look pink in Prince Edward Island, Canada, thanks to the red clay.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has approved our Mount Baker Ski Area as holding the U.S. record for snowfall in a single season, 1,150 inches in 1988-89.
  • The highest snowfall recorded in a one-year period was 1,224 inches between Feb. 19, 1971, and Feb. 18, 1972, on Mount Rainier.
  • The most snow in a 24-hour period was 76 inches in 1921 at Silver Lake, Colo.
  • Skiers and snowboarders have nonscientific words for snow that nonetheless convey their message: Cascade mud, mashed potatoes, champagne snow, pow pow, cauliflower, corduroy.
  • Chionophobia is a fear of snow.
  • In 2007, Dutch runner Wim Hof ran the fastest half-marathon barefoot on snow and ice, covering the distance in 2 hours, 16 minutes and 34 seconds during a race in Finland. Hof is often called the Ice Man. He also swam 80 meters while under the North Pole ice. Both are records in the Guinness Book.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 at www.songandword.com.
Story tags » Snow

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