Snow in Them Thar Hills – By Kathleen Scavone

Snowfall is such a rarity in Lake County, that when it arrives silently as Sandburg’s fog on little cat feet, it evokes elation in many of us. Wintry haikus are created on each bough, and cap the ordinary with glitter, giving one pause at the little miracles falling from above. More times than not, snow falls but once or twice a year in Lake County, with the exception of Cobb Mountain, elevation 4,721 feet and other high points in the county such as Mt. Konocti at 4,304 feet, and of course, resplendent Snow Mountain with its 7,043 foot elevation.

As the temperatures drop and the pitter-patter of rain morphs into snow, the wintry fluff falls gently and quietly, alerting you to the changes in the atmosphere with its soundless aspect. Then, nature’s kitchen-sifter dusts the landscape with powdered sugar. Snow comes in numerous varieties. It can appear dry and feathery, wet, fluffy, thin-crusted or hard-packed. Snowstorms also come in many shapes and sizes. There are snow squalls and snow bursts. For a snowy event to be considered a blizzard, the winds need to clock in at 35 mph with attendant visibility reduced to les than .25 miles for a period of three hours or more. Scientists say that the kind of snow cover which gathers during any specific event is dependant upon the snow crystals in the snow. There is also a phenomenon known as thundersnow, which is rare and is actually a blizzard with lightening. American Scientist magazine explains that snow is not a form of frozen rain, since that would be sleet. Snow forms as water vapor omits its liquid phase and condenses straight into ice. The scientific process that occurs during this transformation is a chemical process with a constellation of variables including air pollution, wind speed, altitude and more, that bring about snowflake’s unique physical properties. Did you know that snow is a mineral like diamonds?  Or that snow is considered as translucent, but not white? Yes, snow is truly clear, as it is formed of ice crystals with light that bends and bounds off of each ice crystal. Surprisingly enough, light’s entire spectrum reflects directly back to us, and we view it as white snow! All of those snowflakes contain only six sides each, and not eight as popularly believed, since water molecules that make up snowflakes only build themselves into six-sided crystals. One more snowflake fun fact: the most enormous snowflake recorded was 15 inches wide, and it fell in Fort Keogh, Montana.

Snowflakes were first photographed in by Snowflake Bentley in 1885, for whom a Caldecott Medal award-winning book was written. Snowflake Bentley created stunning snowflake photographs when he attached a bellows camera to a microscope, then maneuvered snowflakes into place via a turkey wing. He was able to capture on film around 5,000 amazingly beautiful crystals. 

Since over 5,200 tons of space dust falls to Earth each year, it’s not that surprising that scientists have found stardust in snow on Antarctica and on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, according to The Atlantic magazine. It’s not clear how it got there, but scientists believe that when a star explodes, the isotope iron-60 is produced. It could have reached Earth by way of a strait line, having traversed here after an interstellar explosion, or possibly it arrived on Earth via clouds of dust that live around the universe. Space dust may have been attracted by our planet’s  magnetic field, and since the pull is strongest at the North and South poles the special dust may have found a home in the frigid setting of Antarctica.

Rain or snow-  we’ll take it! The soundless ‘white roses’ that elegantly bedeck our surroundings are welcome relief after the dry, dry year that was 2021. So, look straight up at the mesmerizing pointillist nature spectacle and enjoy the landscape that is awash in a moonscape of wonder, transformed into spun sugar.

Kathleen Scavone

Kathleen Scavone, MA., is a retired educator who has resided in beautiful Lake County for over 45 years. She freelances fiction, poetry, nature writing, curriculum ideas, and local history. She writes for The Press Democrat, Napa Valley Register, News From Native California, Green Prints, etc. She has published three books, a play and a poetry chapbook. The second edition of her locally set historical novella, People of the Water- a novella of the events leading to the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850 is available in local museums and stores, as well as on Amazon.com and IngramSpark in both paperback and e-book formats. She has written Anderson Marsh State Historic Park- A Walking History, Prehistory, Flora and Fauna tour of a California State Park, and Native Americans of Lake County. Kathleen is a photographer and potter. Her other interests include hiking, assisting on archaeology digs, travel, gardening and reading.

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