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Name: Sara
Status: student
Age:  20s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2000-2001


Question:
What is the actual shape of a snowflake?


Replies:
Sara,

Single, complete snowflakes are hexagonal; they have 8 branches. They come in many sizes and in a beautiful array of crystalline varieties. Often you don't see single crystals when it snows, as it is common for the crystals to collide as they fall, breaking into pieces or combining into little snowballs of partially melted snow.

David Cook
Meteorologist
Argonne National Laboratory


In a recent reply to your question about snowflakes, I mistakenly said that snowflakes have 8 branches.

OOPS! Everyone knows that snowflakes have 6 branches. The branches tend to expand from a hexagonal plate which normally forms on a particle (soil, salt, pollutant) in supercooled air.

I hope that someone caught my mistake, but just in case someone didn't, I wanted to let you know.

David Cook
meteorologist
Argonne National Laboratory


Krista,

Temperature and water vapor content affect snowflake shapes. If the temperature is at freezing, snowflake branches tend to melt, ending up looking rounded or they combine into little balls called graupel. If it is quite cold where the flakes form and fall, they will keep their classic branched snowflake shape and not combine with other flakes. The more water vapor there is in the air and the further they have to fall from the cloud, the better developed the snowflake branches are.

David R. Cook
Atmospheric Section
Environmental Research Division
Argonne National Laboratory


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