Skip to main content

Basic Structure and Formation of Snowflakes

The author is a lover of nature and technology. He has been an online writer since 2009.

Ice Crystals-Snowflakes

Snowflakes madeof Ice Crystals

Snowflakes is a single ice crystal that has grown sufficiently enough to fall down from the sky as snow. They are arrangements of tiny ice crystals that grow from water vapor. To form snowflakes, ice crystals freeze around tiny dust particles permeating the atmosphere and blend to other ice crystals as they descend to the ground, forming snowflakes. They tale different kinds of shapes depending on the weather and atmospheric conditions, including temperature, wind and water vapor in the atmosphere The amount of time it takes a snowflake to reach the ground is another factor that determines its shape.

Snowflake is a broader term to designate a collection of individual ice crystals. Normally, ice crystals cluster together during a snowstorm, creating complex symmetrical structures, resulting in snowflakes. Each ice crystal, during formation, acquires a singular and well-formed structure. They are classified into 8 main types of flakes and over 80 variations.

The best known ice crystal structures include the Star Crystal, Columns, Capped Columns, plates, Needles, spatial Dendrites and irregular forms. The structural arrangement of ice crystals derives from the molecular arrangement of water and hydrogen atoms.

Ice Crystal Growth Depends on Temperature and Humidity

Snowflake Formation

The formation of snowflakes begins in the clouds with the condesation of water vapor (nucleation) around small particles of dust to form ice crystals. At temperatures below the freezing point 0° C (32° F), water vapor begins to freeze into crystal nuclei. As the crystal begins to grow, it is carried high in the cloud to colder temperatures, acquiring a hexagonal prism form. diffusion causes branches to grow out from the corners of the growing crystal. The snowflake continues rising up to cooler temperatures, attracting more crystals. When the snowflake is heavy enough, it begins to fall to the ground.

Snow crystals growth depends on temperature and water vapor supersaturation; however, it is temperature which will determine wether they will grow into plates or columns. At -2° C (31.8° F), snow crystals are predominantly plates, changing to needles and columns at -5° C (28.8° F). At -15° C (18.8° F), they´re plates; however, at 30° C (3.8° F), they´re both columns and plates. At lower temperatures, columns predominate.

Ice crystals organize themselves symmetrically, in a similar way in which water molecules do. Water molecules form hydrogen bonds with one another in the solid state (ice and snow). these bonds lead to the hexagonal six-sided shape characteristic of snowflakes. During crystallization, water molecules arrange together to give form to a crystalline lattice. this hexagonal crystalline symmetry is what in the end will determine the form of a snowflake.

Types of Snowflakes

Uniqueness of Ice Crystals

Each snowflake is characterized by being unique among other snowflakes. Throughout their displacement from the clouds to the surface of the ground, each snowflakes follows different paths, encountering on their way a variety of weather conditions, such as temperature, wind, and humidity which is what will determine the particular structural characteristics of a snowflake. Moreover; the time it takes each snowflake to get to the ground plays an important factor in their molecular arrangements. If two snowflakes were to acquire the same structure, they would have to go through analogous paths and under similar atmospheric conditions.

Scroll to Continue

Christmas Snowflakes

Snowflakes Used as Symbols

The shape that snowflakes has been used as decorations and other uses in popular culture, for instance, the snowflake is a symbol during the Christmas season, especially in Europe and the United States. It is in this season that people tend to make paper snowflakes to be used as Christmas decorations. You might see all kinds of snowflakes embellishing the Christmas trees, houses and streets.

During the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City Utah, the organizers chose a snowflake as the representative symbol of the games.

In 1999, rubber manufactures of both Canada and the United States agreed on the use of a snowflake on the tire sidewall to distinguish tires with a superior level of snow attraction.

© 2012 Jose Juan Gutierrez


Jose Juan Gutierrez (author) from Mexico City on October 29, 2015:

Thanks for the advise!

Josh on October 29, 2015:

Images too small to be legible.

Related Articles