As you bend down to scoop another shovelful of snow, you feel a painful twinge in your back. You’ve only shoveled half of the front yard and you still have a lot more work to do, but the snow just seems heavier this time around. How much does snow weigh and how heavy can it get?
The weight of snow varies by type, but the heaviest snow is slush, which weighs 3.75 pounds per inch when measuring the depth per square foot of snow. If you had 4 inches of slushy snow, the snow could weigh 15 pounds!
In this article, we’ll discuss the weight of snow per type, from newly fallen snow to slushy wet stuff. We’ll also talk about what causes some types of snow to weigh more than other kinds, so make sure you keep reading.
How Much Does Snow Weigh? How Heavy Can It Get?
As we’ve discussed on the blog, snow comes in all shapes and sizes depending on the ice crystal configuration. In this section, we’ll recap each type of snow as well as share its weight in pounds per inch of depth per square foot.
New Snow – 0.1 pounds to 0.3 pounds
When new snow falls, it consists of recognizable ice crystals. The texture of the snow is usually dry, even powdery, which accounts for its low weight. This type of snow weighs no more than 0.3 pounds.
The conditions that allow for new snow are low winds (ideally no winds) and very cold temperatures. This snow must be uncompacted so it will maintain its high air volume.
New Firn – 2.47 pounds
Readers of the blog should recall that firn is bonded and round snow. It’s the inclusion of more ice in firn that jacks up the weight of new firn to nearly 3 pounds!
Compacted New Snow – 0.37 pounds
Virgin snow, as beautiful as it is, does not stay that way forever. Plows will come through and destroy the original snow’s form, as will curious kids and adults when they trample over it.
When the snow becomes compressed, the air that was trapped within the ice crystals is now released. Depending on the extent of the compaction, some air can remain or there may be none. That’s why compacted snow is heavier, weighing 0.37 pounds and up.
Damp New Snow – 0.78 pounds
If the temperatures are over freezing but not by too much, then when new snow falls, it’s damper than usual. The wind exposure should still be minimized, and the snow will be uncompacted at this stage. Yet due to the extra moisture, damp new snow is a good deal heavier than even compacted new snow, 0.78 pounds versus 0.37 pounds.
Settling Snow – 0.68 pounds
Once snow settles on the surface but is still young (not quite a day old yet), variations will occur. The temperature can shift, especially between sundown and sunup. Wind will impact the snow too, be it intermittent winds or those that are more consistent.
While in the settling stage, snow will weigh 0.68 pounds. It’s still not as heavy as damp new snow.
Settled Snow – 1.3 pounds
Snow is considered settled when it’s remained in the same place for at least 24 hours but ideally longer. Wind and temperature variations have continued to impact this snow, likely compressing it. That’s why it weighs more than settling snow, clocking in at 1.3 pounds on average.
Wind-Impacted Snow – 1.46 pounds to 1.98 pounds
The wind will gradually compact and harden snow, especially severe winds. The below-freezing temperatures will only accelerate the changes the snow goes through. This older snow is quite heavy, sometimes weighing nearly 2 pounds.
Sugar Snow – 1.04 pounds
Sugar snow requires water vapor to freeze onto ice crystals that have started to form. The grains of this snowfall are larger than average, which explains why sugar snow weighs more. It’s still a very moderate 1.04 pounds per inch of depth per square foot.
Wet Snow – 1.75 pounds
Moist, sticky, and heavy, wet snow forms in conditions where the wind is negligible, and the temperatures are warmer. This is snowball-making snow, but it’s not exactly lightweight at 1.75 pounds.
Slush – 3.75 pounds
Despite that it’s mostly liquid, slush is still incredibly weighty at nearly 4 pounds.
To be clear, the above weights are pounds per inch of snow depth per square foot. That means you’d have to measure the amount of snow you have in square feet and then the depth of the snow.
For example, if you have 5 inches of snow and it’s wet, then the snow weighs around 8.75 pounds. If it was slush, then the snow weighs 18.75 pounds.
What Influences the Weight of Snow?
Before you even pick up your shovel, if you know a bit about the snow that’s fallen, you’ll have a better idea of what you’re in for.
As the last section indicated, five factors will determine whether the snow you’ll shovel is lightweight or heavy. Those factors are free water content, wind, temperature, compaction, and age.
Let’s talk further about each factor now.
Free Water Content
All snow will have at least some free water content or moisture, but the amount varies. If the free water content is under eight percent, then the snow lacks moisture and will be very dry and powdery. This snow isn’t useful for building snowmen or igloos nor for rolling snowballs, as we wrote about in a recent post.
However, powdery snow weighs very little and can easily be moved around with your shovel, so it has that going for it.
Wet snow is the perfect type of snow for making snowmen and more, as we touched on above. It’s got about eight percent free water content. Since the moisture in snow can act like glue, it’s easiest with wet snow to pack together snowballs or snow blocks.
Slush is what you get when the free water content is around 13 percent or even surpasses that marker. The excess moisture prevents the snow from being solid enough to really do anything with it. It’s just as frustrating trying to make a snowman in slush as it is powdery snow. Both are a fool’s errand.
As the last section illustrates, water is heavy, so the higher the free water content in snow, the more it weighs. Frozen water or ice weighs even more though. Ice with air bubbles, which is also known as cloudy ice, is 4.5 pounds per inch of depth per square foot. Pure ice without any air weighs 4.77 pounds.
The bitter whipping winds of winter can put a wallop on snow. The wind can compact the ice crystals, forcing out air and making the previously light snow now weigh a lot more. Stronger, consistent winds will have a more pronounced effect.
Wind doesn’t work alone though. It’s in a tag team with the outdoor temperature. The closer that the temperatures get to below freezing, the harder the snow becomes. As the wind conditions the snow, that too can increase its rate of compaction and hardening, changing its structure fast. The snow becomes heavier as a result.
The lightest snow, as we mentioned earlier, is that which has the most trapped air. You know by now that the wind can reduce the amount of air between the ice crystals, and so can walking right over that fresh pile of snow. As the crystals compact under your snow boots, the snow overall will weigh more.
The age of the snow is also a huge factor in how heavy it will be. The longer the snow has been on the ground, the more it’s been exposed to compaction, wind, and temperature fluctuations. It will be far harder and heavier than new snow.
Tips for Shoveling Heavy Snow
When snow falls, it doesn’t matter what kind it is, light or heavy, you have to shovel it. Since heavy snow can be a challenge even for able-bodied young adults, here are some tips for safe shoveling.
Start While the Snow Is Still Falling
Some people wait until the storm has passed to come out and begin shoveling. The problem with that is that if you got a 14-inch snowstorm, you now have to contend with all 14 inches of snow at once. The snow is undoubtedly going to be heavier!
If you wait until after a few inches of snow have fallen and then shovel, you’re only working with half the amount of snow, maybe less. You will have to shovel at least twice, but it will be easier both times than it would be to shovel all the snow the one time.
Use Cooking Spray
You thought cooking spray was just for your baking sheets and muffin tins, but it turns out it’s not! By generously spraying your shovel before you begin removing snow, even tough, sticky snow won’t stay on the shovel blade. That means less straining for you.
Stretch Before You Shovel
Shoveling is a workout, so you should treat it like such. Stretch your entire body so your muscles are nice and limber. Then you can start. Keep in mind that poor technique can still cause pain even if you stretch.
Don’t Lift, Push
Speaking of your technique, when shoveling, don’t try to lift the snow right away. Instead, push it away from the main pile of snow, then raise your shovel when the snow is isolated. The smaller amount of snow is less heavy and will spare your back and body.
Snow can get very heavy, especially if it’s been wind-hardened, compacted, or if it’s wet. Remember to dress for the weather and follow our snow shoveling tips above so you can avoid backaches and other pain this winter!