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February 2, 2015 AT 9:00 am

Do You Want To Build a Snowman? Physics Can Help

Physicssnowgraphic

Growing up, I considered my snowman a success if I didn’t knock the head off when inserting its carrot nose. But, if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it right!

SmithsonianMag recently published a story on the science behind perfecting your snowman.

First, let’s talk about the snow. “Snow can either be too wet or too dry,” points out Dan Snowman, a physicist at Rhode Island College in Providence. Scientists actually classify snow based on its moisture content—the amount of free water relative to ice crystals—not to be confused with the amount of water the snow would produce if melted. Snow comes in five categories: dry (zero percent water), moist (less than 3 percent), wet (3 to 8 percent), very wet (8 to 15 percent) and slush (more than 15 percent). 

By that scale, moist to wet snow is ideal for snowman building, according to Jordy Hendrikx, a snow scientist at Montana State University. Dry snow is like a loose powder with particles that don’t stick together very well, while slush is too fluid to hold a shape. “You can think of the free water as the ‘glue.’ You need enough to stick the crystals together, but not too much. Otherwise it won’t form a solid snowman,” says Hendrikx. 

Read more.


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