Do you remember in school during Christmas time when your teacher made you fold up a piece of paper a certain way and then cut into it to make a snowflake. When the papers were unfolded again no one in the class ever had the same snowflake. This is true in nature just as it was in the classroom, water crystallizes in so many different ways, shapes and forms that no two snowflakes ever have the chance to ever be the same.
*Just How Many Different Snowflakes are there?
All of us have our ideal snowflake in mind when we talk about them. Usually the ones we have in mind are scientifically called “Stellar Dendrites”. They are the types of snowflakes that you see in holiday decorations with the 6 arms branching out. But, snowflakes are not just confined to this one pattern there are around 35 different types of snowflakes. They run from what you think is a typical snowflake to cylinders to needle shape. A great website to see pictures of all of the different types of snowflakes drawn out and also under an electron microscope can be found at: http://www.its.caltech.edu/~atomic/snowcrystals/class/class.htm .
*Why all the different types?
Snowflakes range in different sizes and shapes depending on two factors; how much moisture is in the air and what the temperature outside is. The more moisture that is in the air and the closer to the freezing mark the temperature is will create the larger types of snowflakes. It will also create large clumps of snowflakes.
If you live in a snowy climate you have no doubt seen when the snowflakes are as big as a golf ball. This is not a singular snowflake but a large amount of wet snowflakes clumped together, they are able to do this because the moisture allows the molecular structure of each snowflake adhere to the one next to it.
On the other hand the colder away from the freezing mark you get and a decrease in the amount of moisture in the air results in smaller, singular snowflakes that are more like tiny soft pieces of ice then the pretty snowflakes you enjoy looking at during the holidays. With these flakes there is just not enough moisture in the air for the molecules to attach to itself or each other. Which is why this type of snow does not make good snowmen or snowballs, there is not just enough moisture in them.
So the next time you are watching the snow fall outside through your window you will be able to tell relatively close what the temperature and moisture level is outside just by the flakes that are falling. But, most importantly of all you will be able to decide whether or not today would be a good day to make a snowman with all of the newly fallen snow.