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Snow Doughnuts

1-31-13 snowdoughnuts by Ginny Barlow  1 27 (1)A fairly rare natural phenomenon is the creation of snowballs without the help of any living creature. These structures, called snow doughnuts (there is a hole in the center of them) or snow rollers, require a precise balance of air temperature, ice, snow, moisture and wind in order to form. To begin with, the ground surface (typically quite flat) must have an icy, crusty snow, on which new falling snow cannot stick. On top of this, there needs to be about an inch of loose, wet, sticky snow. The air temperature needs to be around 32 degrees F. Last, but not least, there must be a strong, gusty wind blowing 25 miles per hour or more. Snow doughnuts begin to form when the wind scoops chunks out of the top inch or so of snow and these chunks roll, bounce and tumble just like tumbleweeds, downwind. They gather additional snow as they roll and become larger and larger until they are too large for the wind to push. Snow doughnuts can be as small as a tennis ball or as much as two feet in diameter, depending on how strong the wind is and how smooth the surface of the snow is. There can be hundreds of them in a field or patch of woods, usually on level ground. When a snow roller starts to form, there is no hole in the center of it. As it picks up speed and snow, the thin center crumbles, forming the snow “doughnuts.” (Thanks to Ginny Barlow for the snow doughnut photograph.)

2 responses

  1. ht

    Hi Mary, We had a couple dozen of these in our field and concluded they were wind-created. We love having a better understanding of their genesis, thanks as always!

    January 31, 2013 at 12:39 pm

  2. Muffin

    Very cool! I’ve never seen these… fascinating!

    February 6, 2013 at 12:59 pm

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