As we celebrate the holidays with family, many of us are experiencing a white Christmas with snow providing a festive covering outdoors. However, snowfalls can come in many different shapes and moisture content. Some snowfalls are wetter and have a higher percentage of water to snow. This can give you heavier, wetter snowflakes compared to drier, fluffier snowflakes. These differences in moisture content per inch of snow are due to snow ratios. If you measure an amount of snow, melt it, and divide the amount of snow by how much total water is measured, you obtain a snow ratio. Lower snow ratios indicate wetter snow, best for snowballs, whereas higher snow ratios signal drier snow.
(Image Credit: NOAA)
Traditionally, 10 inches of snow to 1 inch of water is the standard ratio used when discussing snow ratios. With the extreme variability of the atmosphere, this can often not be true, and you can see ratios as high as even 20 inches of snow to 1 inch of liquid water. Temperature plays a large part in what type of snowflake occurs which in turn affects snow ratio measures. Extremely cold atmospheres tend to favor higher snow ratios while a deep warm layer from the cloud to the surface can produce lower snow ratios. Also, wind is a factor where gusty winds can break apart the snowflakes and cause smaller snowfall totals. Even the amount of ice crystals within a cloud can affect snow ratios and if you increase the amount of ice crystals this can produce higher snow ratios.
In 1948, Wiseman, Alaska saw ratios of nearly 27:1 snow ratios in an event which produced 31 inches of snow to only 1.17” of liquid water. While you may never see snow ratios that high, snow ratios are a defining aspect of the snow we love so much and give us countless types of snowfall events!
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© 2021 Meteorologist Dakari Anderson