joe rojas-burke

Portland-based science writer

April 13, 2013 at 11:04am

The lovely & true shape diversity of snowflakes. Gasp!

University of Utah weather researchers captured these snowflake images in freefall at Alta Ski Area using a custom-made multi angle snowflake camera. ScienceNow explains:

By grabbing a series of images of the tumbling crystals—its exposure time is one-40,000th of a second, compared with about one-200th in normal photography—the camera is revealing the true shape diversity of snowflakes. For example, long before they reach the ground, many flakes are attacked by millions of freezing water droplets and end up as rough little ice pellets known as graupel. Flakes that avoid that process often end up sticking to other flakes, forming big, fluffy aggregates in midflight. And even those flakes that trace a lonely path through the air are usually not flat but bushy. Besides providing beautiful real-time 3D snowflake photographs from a ski resort in Utah, the goal is to improve weather modeling. More accurate data on how fast snowflakes fall and how their shapes interacts with radar will improve predictions of when and where storms will dump snow and how much. 

Images: University of Utah Aerosol-Cloud-Climate Systems Group


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