Anatomy of a Snowflake: Science, art and a little magic

snowflake facts, Alaska nature photography

For over 20 years I’ve photographed snowflakes. Call it a favorite pastime. But global warming is not kind to snowflakes. And the last few years have yielded few snowflakes to photograph. So when we arrived at our friend’s house in Anchorage on a December morning, I had my doubts.

Believe me, I’ve waited for snow a lot lately.

Here is a short video I created while waiting for snow in Kodiak…
(Feel free to share my video with this link)

Still, I set up my gear on their back deck. Outhouse tent, check. Camera gear, check. Two milk crates and glass microscope slides, check. Tiny paintbrushes for scooping up, pancake style, individual snow crystals. I arranged my equipment inside the outhouse tent. A snowflake laboratory.

I’m sure the neighbors were talking.

For the next five days, I lived and slept in polar fleece jackets, insulated pants, my favorite purple knit hat, and bunny boots. Okay, I didn’t sleep in my bunny boots.

All the while, the National Weather Service promised blizzards and snow showers. I prayed, prayed. and drank coffee. Temperatures between 5 to 12 degrees F. are ideal for stellar dendrites. Classic-shaped snowflakes.

Snowflake facts and fun

Question: How long is a snowflake’s journey from sky to the ground?
Answer: About 20 minutes?

Question: What is the largest snowfall fight?
Answer: On January 12, 2013, 5,834 snow fighters came together in Seattle to exchange frozen barrages — the largest snowball fight in the world.

Back to the outhouse tent…

Days were cloudy and warm. Evenings not much cooler. Which meant most snowflakes were coated with frozen droplets of rime.

Guess what?

You can’t see the crystalline structure of a snowflake when it looks like cottage cheese.

In five days of standing in the snow, eyeing the sky, checking the forecast, drinking coffee sweetened with honey, and snacking on M&M trail mix, I managed to photograph one… decent… snowflake.

Back home in Kodiak

I fired up the computer. Hundreds of so-so images. Then, I found myself staring at this solitary snowflake as if admiring a precious gem. A dashed line here, a dot there; valleys and highways. I zoomed in and began to see worlds within worlds.

Would you say it was worth it? I mean, five days working in an outhouse tent? In the winter.

I figure it’s better than being stuck in freeway traffic.

Thanks for stopping by,

P.S. Now it’s your turn.  What do you dream of doing, even if the odds are against you? Leave your comment below…

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  • Deva
    January 19, 2024 at 10:15 AM

    They are cool

  • Eva
    January 5, 2016 at 11:00 PM

    Amazing, indeed : )

  • Linda
    December 19, 2015 at 8:08 PM

    You are amazing.


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