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The Buzz

Nature Curiosity: Why Does Some Snow Sparkle?




(Photo via Shutterstock)

Saturday night's snowfall may be mostly forgotten, with another winter storm dumping even more on top of the weekend's accumulation. But anyone who spent time outside Sunday probably noticed that the freshly fallen snow had a certain sparkle to it, creating a picture-perfect landscape that looked like it belonged in a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie.

It turns out the sparkly quality, which meteorologists refer to as "snow sparkle," is due to the sun reflecting off the individual ice crystals in the snow, according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. When sunlight hits the crystals, it has a mirror effect. Rays of light hit the individual ice crystals lying on the uppermost layer of snow and reflect the light back up.

Sometimes, the sun's reflection creates a rainbow as the light moves through the air and water in the crystals. Or you may catch a glimpse of just one color, like red or violet, according to the University of Wisconsin.

READ MORE NATURE CURIOSITIES

The best type of winter precipitation for snow sparkle is dry snow like we had Saturday. This is because the individual ice crystals within dry snow usually remain separated, whereas with wet snow the crystals are larger and they can attach themselves to other snowflakes.

Another glittery weather phenomenon similar to snow sparkle is what meteorologists call "diamond dust," which is tiny ice crystals that seem to float in the air, often under a bright, blue sky, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

These floating crystals can fall from high clouds or form from something called temperature inversion, when colder air is closer to ground level with warmer air aloft. This effect can cause water vapor to form, and the vapor turns to ice crystals in the cold air mass, the Farmers Almanac reports. Similar to snow sparkle, diamond dust's glittery appearance is caused by sunlight hitting the ice crystals.

Think Twice Before Your Next Sip and Skip the Straw Instead

2/19/2019

Next time you order a drink from a restaurant, think twice before you unwrap the straw. Americans use millions of straws a day, and many of them end up as litter, eventually making their way into ours lakes and rivers. National Skip the Straw Day, held every February, aims to change that. 

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Creature Feature: The Wacky Woodcock

2/19/2019

The American woodcock is related to the sandpiper, but you wouldn't know it based on its behavior. Woodcocks are known for their unusual antics, including elaborate and sometimes noisy "sky dances" and a weird walk to help them find food.

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Skip the Stink: How to Keep Stink Bugs at Bay

2/15/2019

Winter is stink bug season, at least indoors. If you are finding these bugs around your house, don't squish them or step on them unless you're prepared for their noxious odor. Instead, your best bet is to prevent them from getting inside your house in the first place.

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