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Too Cold To Snow?

based on 9 ratings
Author: Cy Ashley Webb

If you live in a region where it snows frequently, you probably have heard adults claim that it is too cold to snow. This claim may seem to be based upon an old wives' tale. In this experiment, you will analyze the temperature as it relates to snowfall to determine if this is true.

Understanding just what conditions are necessary for snowfall will help you understand your data. Three conditions must be satisfied before it will snow. First, the air in the clouds and the air in the ground must be below freezing. Obviously, it cannot snow if conditions are such that the snowflakes immediately melt. Second, there must be sufficient humidity to form clouds and precipitation. Lastly, there must be lift. Lift means that conditions must be such that the moist air rises off the ground to form clouds. This happens when warm air collides with cold air. Land areas where cold and warm air come together to create lift are called fronts.

Generally when people say it’s too cold to snow, they mean that there is not enough warm air in the environment to create lift. When it is very cold – below 0 degrees Fahrenheit – the atmosphere is usually too stable to create lift. Colder air also holds less moisture than warmer air which also prevents snow from forming.

Problem:

How do winter storms form? What is the relationship between temperature, moisture and snow?

Materials:

  • Internet access
  • If internet access is not available, an archive of old newspapers can be used.
  • Notebook and pencil 

Procedure:

  1. Create a four-column table with column headings for the date, high temperature, low temperature and precipitation.
  2. Decide which location you would like to study. Your location(s) should be places where there good records kept and where it snows a lot. Some areas where the snowfall is the greatest in the U.S. are Tahoe City, CA, Boulder, CO, Buffalo, NY, Syracuse NY, and Boston, MA. There are other cities that are far snowier, but records may not be as well kept as in these urban areas.
  3. Pick a winter month. In your location. Using archived newspapers found online, check the weather and temperature for every day in the month. You may need to do a second month to get sufficient data.
  4. Another way to access this data is to use the “Interactive Snow Operation” mapping tool made by the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). This map allows you to focus in on a particular geographic region and access data on snowfall and temperature. By clicking on the drop-down menu in the upper left hand corner that is labeled “Select Physical Element”, you can select the daily average temperature and the snow precipitation, both found under “Daily Driving Data” found in the middle of the menu. Under “Select Date,” systematically enter the date and then get the temperature and snowfall data for the area you are interested in. Repeat this for every day over a one or two month time period.
  5. After you have prepared your data chart, begin to analyze your data. Graph your data, with the y-axis representing temperature and the x-axis representing date. What was the average high and low temperature during snowy periods? Was this warmer or colder than the rest of the days in the month? If there are very cold days, does it tend to snow on those days? Are there any other trends that distort your data such as seasonal temperature shifts?
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