Outside, it’s a cold, crisp winter day. The kids are home from school and chomping at the bit to get out and do something. Suddenly, you have an idea. You should all go out and build a snowman. What’s the best weather for this wintry activity?
Temperatures of at least 30 degrees Fahrenheit outside will help you build your best snowman yet. The moisture in the snow makes it soft and pliable so you and the entire family can easily shape your snow-pal!
Ahead, we’ll talk more about why the temperature matters so much when building a snowman as well as the ideal type of snow you need. We’ll even share some tips for building your snowman and helping it stick around longer, so make sure you keep reading!
This Is the Best Weather to Build a Snowman
It’s easy to think that snow is snow, but as the adult in the house who’s had to shovel it, you probably know that’s not quite the case. Some snow shovels quickly and easily because it’s light and fluffy. Sometimes you’re stuck mucking up the heavy, wet snow and, in more cases still, you have to chip away at the snow pile because it’s almost frozen over.
Just because there’s snow on the ground doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ideal for building a snowman then. You want the weather outside to reach a certain temperature.
That temperature is at least 30 degrees. Why is that? When snow falls, depending on the temperature, you get different types of snow crystals or snowflakes. All snowflakes might look like little blots of white by the time they hit your coat (or your tongue), but long before they reach you, distinguishing snow crystal features emerge.
Here are the types of snow crystals:
- Fernlike stellar dendrites: These stellar dendrite snow crystals are called fernlike because well, they look like ferns. When fernlike stellar dendrites fall, you tend to get quite powdery snow.
- Stellared dendrites: The shape of stellared dendrite snow crystals is more like a tree. These are the classic snowflake shape you see in holiday décor, with at least six branches per crystal.
- Needles: Needle-like snow crystals are long and sharp. They can take on extra dimensions as the temperatures dip lower and lower.
- Stellar plates: As flattened snow crystals, stellar plates are hexagonal in shape in the center with six arms. They need temperatures of 5 to 10 degrees to develop.
- Simple prisms: Also flat and hexagonal, simple prisms are slimmer than stellar plates, and they’re tiny too. You typically cannot see these snow crystals in the sky.
To build a durable snowman, you need ice crystals with some moisture, typically 3 to 8 percent, which is moist to wet snow. This snow only falls when the temperatures are 30 degrees or just slightly over, such as 32 degrees. This temperature is pretty warm for snow, so a polar vortex blizzard probably won’t give you the right kind of snow, but a wetter, colder nor’ easter might.
The Types of Snow and Whether You Can Build a Snowman With It
Moist snow is not the only type of snow you’ll encounter over an average winter. That snow has more free water, but snow’s moisture can be reduced depending on the outdoor temperature.
Here are several types of snow that may fall and whether it’s conducive to building a snowman.
Sleet can be really disappointing if you were hoping for snow, but it’s also worth appreciating. You’ll only have sleet when the snow starts from the clouds, then reaches warm air, where it can become shallow. Next, the sleet turns into raindrops. The rain goes through a layer of very cold air that’s below freezing, making it solidify into ice once again.
We’re sure we don’t need to say this, but you cannot make a snowman with sleet. It’s not even snow!
Sometimes snow doesn’t take on the properties of only one type of snow crystal or snowflake, but several. That’s how you get polycrystalline snow, which is simply too unpredictable to do much of anything with. That includes building a snowman.
The moisture quantity of dry snow is zero percent, so it’s going to feel light, airy, and very pliable. Yet despite that, you’ll find that when you try to roll dry snow into a ball, it crumbles and falls apart on you. You’re much better off enjoying another type of snowy activity like snowmobiling or snowboarding instead of making a snowman.
Opaque snowflakes that are round in shape and less than 0.2 inches are called graupel. When ice crystals pass through cloud droplets, they become graupel. These liquid crystals are well under freezing, so they soon turn into a solid as they reform into snow crystals.
The type of snow you get with graupel is hail-like, although graupel and hail are not the same. Graupel snow crumbles like dry snow, but the texture feels softer. You also can’t use this snow for making a snowman, sorry.
We discussed wet snow in the section above. It typically has a moisture content of between 3 and 8 percent, and in some cases, even 8 to 15 percent. That snow is classified as very wet.
Smithsonian Magazine spoke to Montana State University snow scientist Jordy Hendrikx, who said this about the necessary free water content in wet snow. “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.”
So yes, use wet snow for building a snowman, but as for very wet snow? It may have so much excess water that the snow is sloppy, gloopy, and generally unable to work for the purposes you want.
How to Use Wet Snow to Build a Snowman
You check your weather app and the temperature outside is an even 30 degrees. Hooray! Today is the perfect day to get out there and build a snowman, so don’t delay. Dress yourself and the kids up and get out there.
Building a snowman is both about having the right kind of snow and physics. To make the perfect snowman, aim for a height of 6 feet, which is 19 cubic feet of snow when compressed. If you want your snowman to stand tall and not topple over, then build one with a base diameter of 3 feet, a midsection with a diameter of 2 feet, and a head with a diameter of 1 foot.
Don’t start making your snowman on that patch of grass you shoveled this morning. For one, you want to create your snowman on a hard, even surface, which grass is not. You also want to ensure your snowman is standing somewhere cold or it will start melting. That’s why experts recommend creating a base beneath your snowman that’s roughly 2 feet. This will act as your snowman’s foundation, keeping him secure.
If you’re struggling to find the perfect place to build your snowman, here are some areas not to use. Avoid anywhere that gets a lot of sun. Even in the cold, the warmth of the sun will leave your snowman a slushy, melted puddle like Frosty in his holiday special.
Any slanted or angled terrain, like atop a hill, is also ill-advised. Sure, it might look cool on Instagram, but your snowman can begin sliding if he’s on a hill. Then it’s just a matter of time before he falls over.
Even the base of a hill isn’t a good idea for putting your snowman, as someone sledding down the hill could crash into your snowy creation. This will destroy your snowman without a doubt, and the impact could even injure the snow rider.
Anywhere that gets a lot of wind is also a poor pick. A strong gust can knock loosely-constructed snowmen down, and even the more durable ones can only handle so much wind.
If you want to build a snowman, check the temperature before you bundle up the kids and head out. You want temps of 30 to 32 degrees ideally, as this snow is wet but not too wet. The moisture acts as a glue for making awesome snowmen. Using dry, hard, crystalline snow just won’t work.
Now you can wait for a perfect winter day to make a snowman that will attract the whole block’s attention!