Ever wondered about snowflakes?Have you ever looked at a snowflake and wondered how it formed or why it looks different from other snow you might have seen? Snowflakes are a particular form of water ice. Snowflakes form in clouds, which consist of water vapor. When the temperature is 32° F (0° C) or colder, water changes from its liquid form into ice. Several factors affect snowflake formation. Temperature, air currents, and humidity all influence shape and size. Dirt and dust particles can get mixed up in the water and affect crystal weight and durability. The dirt particles make the snowflake heavier, and can cause cracks and breaks in the crystal and make it easier to melt. Snowflake formation is a dynamic process. A snowflake may encounter many different environmental conditions, sometimes melting it, sometimes causing growth, always changing its structure.
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What are common snowflake shapes?
Generally, six-sided hexagonal crystals are shaped in high clouds; needles or flat six-sided crystals are shaped in middle height clouds; and a wide variety of six-sided shapes are formed in low clouds. Colder temperatures produce snowflakes with sharper tips on the sides of the crystals and may lead to branching of the snowflake arms (dendrites). Snowflakes that grow under warmer conditions grow more slowly, resulting in smoother, less intricate shapes.
- 32-25° F - Thin hexagonal plates
- 25-21° F - Needles
- 21-14° F - Hollow columns
- 14-10° F - Sector plates (hexagons with indentations)
- 10-3° F - Dendrites (lacy hexagonal shapes)