Classification of Snow

At first glance there’s just one type of snow – the white stuff that falls from the sky in winter, capping mountain peaks and a fundamental part of traditional Christmas scenes. But there is more to snow than meets the eye – most people have heard of the distinction between ‘wet’ UK snow and the ‘dry’ snow of the European and North American ski slopes. Then there’s the difference between natural and artificial snow, and different ways in which the snow actually falls.

This article summarises the main forms of snow fall, and types of snow. The information has been drawn from several sources, which are listed at the end of this article. There appear to be no standard definitions of snow, or even of snowflakes.

1. Types of snowfall

Sleet – this is a mixture of snow rain and snow, and is common in the UK.

Flurry – a light snowfall, with usually little or none settling on the ground.

Snowstorm – a period of heavy snowfall which often results in accumulations of snow on the ground.

Blizzard – very heavy snow, often associated with high winds. These can lead to ‘white-outs’ where visibility is reduced to a few metres.

2. Types of snow

Artificial snow – this is produced by snow cannons; it is denser than natural snow and regarded as inferior by winter sport professionals.

Powder – fresh, uncompacted snow. Powder in coastal regions is generally heavier, having a higher moisture content. This explains why snow in Britain is usually ‘wetter’ than that found in the continental resorts of Europe or North America.

Packed powder – this is powder snow which has lain on the ground for several days.

Chopped powder – powder snow that has been cut up by skiers.

Crud – this is snow that has seen considerable disturbance by vehicles, skiers or the wind.

Crust – undisturbed powder with a frozen surface layer, having been melted by the sun and then frozen overnight.

Slush – snow which is at the verge of melting, and is often found mixed with puddles of water.

Ice – highly compacted snow forming sheets of ice which are highly dangerous.

There are several different snowflake classification systems, with the most complex including 80 different crystal types. Snowflakes have been analysed by scientists since Johannes Kepler pubished a short treatise in 1611.


Snow – Wikipedia

The UK Meteorological Office

Guide to Snowflakes –

Types of Snow ABC of Snowboarding

Weather & Snow – BBC