All snow is technically made from ice crystals, but sometimes, what comes out of the sky is icier than it is snowier. If the snowfall that landed in your neighborhood produced pellet-like small particles of snow, then this is graupel or icy snow. Could you make a snowman with this type of snow?
Making a snowman in icy snow is nearly impossible due to the pelleted texture of the snowfall. Even if the graupel mixes with light or wet snow, the presence of it would still make the snow hard to work with. Ice doesn’t contain much water, so getting the snow to stick would be a challenge.
In this guide, we’ll talk more about what comprises icy snow, how conducive it is to make a snowman, and what–if anything–you can do with it. Winter weather lovers are certainly not going to want to miss this one!
What Is Icy Snow?
If you’ve read this blog, then you’ll recall how snow crystals come in a variety of types. Depending on the type of snow that falls, you may have very light snow, drier and powderier snow, or thicker, wetter snow.
Icy snow is often referred to as graupel. The temperature that’s required for snow to fall is 32 degrees Fahrenheit, yet when temperatures go below that, that’s when icy snow can form.
The water droplets in the atmosphere freeze. As this happens, the droplets latch onto the closest snow crystal. This is known as riming. What results from the riming is pellet-like snow that falls in small pieces.
Graupel can often be mistaken for hail, but it’s not quite that. Hail is frozen precipitation that often falls in large chunks. If you’ve ever heard it pelt your windows or slam into your siding, then you know that hail can be rather injurious.
The smaller pellets that are graupel are softer and gentler. They’re less likely to cause damage, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Interestingly, in the right conditions, graupel can become hail, such as if the pellets are allowed to increase in size on their way out of the sky. That said, graupel does not always become hail, and on its own, it is not hail.
Is Icy Snow Good for Making Snowmen?
True winter lovers look forward to snow events like summer enjoyers yearn for a stretch of sunny, hot beach days. You were very excited to get some snow recently…until it started falling from the sky.
Then you were dismayed to realize that rather than the slow, soft descent that snow often makes, you were getting pelted by pellets. You had already promised the kids that you would make a snowman today, but you’re not sure if the icy snow is going to work for that. Will it?
Your assumptions are correct. Icy snow is not good for making snowmen.
If you’ve read this blog, then you should be aware that the right snow consistency for making snowmen (as well as other snow structures such as igloos or snow forts) is wet but not overly soaking snow.
Perhaps you need a recap, so let’s provide one now. Snow usually has free water content, with free water referring to the amount of moisture in the snow. Drier snow such as powdery snow has between three and eight percent free water content.
Wet but not soaking snow contains eight to 13 percent free water, and that’s the ideal amount. Snow that exceeds 13 percent free water is more like slush. You can’t do anything with this type of snow.
So between very dry, perfectly wet, or too wet, where does graupel fall? Although ice is just frozen water, ice has less water content than you’d think. According to news resource SFGate, in one standard ice cube from a tray, you get only two tablespoons of water.
Ice is dry, and that means that graupel would be the same.
Now, graupel doesn’t always fall alone. It could be combined with powdery snow or wetter snow, although probably not slush. Remember, the conditions needed for icy snow to occur are colder than the usual 32 degrees, so slush would freeze. Even wetter snow would do the same.
The snow that results would likely be drier and then topped with the graupel pellets. Altogether, you’d have loose, powdery, dry snow.
We usually would suggest wetting powdery snow to increase its amount of free water content. The additional moisture gives the snow sticking power so it can be rolled into snowballs or snow bricks.
So what happens when you wet ice? The water atop the ice freezes and makes more ice. That’s how icicles form.
What Can You Do in Icy Snow?
Keeping the above information in mind, you now realize that making a snowman with graupel is going to be nearly impossible. Is icy snow good for anything else?
Honestly, not really. The pelleted snow doesn’t make for the most appealing snowfall, so if you’re into photography or videography, you’re going to be bummed out.
Making snow angels doesn’t feel great in icy snow because it’s cold and the texture is off-putting.
If you were hoping to salvage the day by taking the kids sledding, we wouldn’t recommend that either. The ice in the snow can make sledding unpredictable. Plus, again, there’s the texture thing that doesn’t make sledding the best idea.
That goes for skiing as well as snowmobiling. The ice just adds too much danger to these activities. Your snow vehicle could go skidding or sliding due to the ice, which could lead to crashes and injuries.
Even shoveling icy snow is more difficult than usual, but that’s about the only thing you can do when graupel decorates the ground.
Icy Snow Safety Tips
Icy snow is not only inconvenient if you were hoping to go sledding or build a snowman, but it can be downright dangerous as well. The next time graupel is in your weather forecast, be sure to take heed of these tips.
Use a Deicer Before Shoveling
Shoveling ice is a fool’s errand. You can chip and stab at the ice with your shovel, but all you’re doing is needlessly expending energy. Oh, and you risk snapping or otherwise breaking your snow shovel as well. It’s just not worth it.
What you should do before you attempt shoveling is use a deicer. After applying, wait at least two hours for the deicer to do its thing. The ice will have melted in that time enough that you can shovel more easily.
When Walking, Small Steps Are Best
You do not want to slip and fall on ice, nor do you want that for your kids. Tell them not to go running on the lawn or on any walkways until you’ve had the chance to deice them. Take small, concerted steps to stay upright.
Use Cat Litter When Shoveling for Traction
Speaking of staying upright, that can be hard to do when you’re shoveling icy snow. Here’s a strange trick that works surprisingly well. Spread fresh cat litter around the area you’re shoveling. The litter will increase traction so you don’t slip.
Avoid Driving in Icy Conditions If You Can
The issue with ice is that any part of the road could be riddled with black ice. Despite the name, black ice is nearly invisible, especially in blustery conditions or the early darkness that winter brings each day.
More likely to develop on asphalt than other surfaces (which explains the name), black ice usually requires refreezing one or more times. Overpasses, bridges, and other parts of the road that get a lot of traffic are the likeliest to develop black ice.
Since you can’t see black ice, the best thing to do is avoid driving altogether. Hopefully, if you got some significant snow, your boss will give you the day off work or at least let you work from home. The kids are probably not going to school either.
If you must drive, then do so at a slower speed than even what the speed limit requires. Ignore other motorists who are racing around you on either side, as they’re the ones driving dangerously.
Resist braking as often as you can, as you’re probably going to slide or skid if you do. Instead, to slow down, simply stop accelerating. Also, maintain a straight steering wheel, which will increase control of your vehicle.
When icy snow falls in the neighborhood, you’re better off staying inside and making some hot cocoa. You can’t make a snowman in this type of snow, nor can you build a snow fort. Riding a snowmobile or going sledding or skiing are also dangerous due to the presence of ice.
Hopefully, the next snowfall will be wetter and less icy so you can enjoy the above winter activities!