When winter doesn’t hold up its end of the snow bargain (we’re looking at you, this winter), ski areas often make their own, using devices like the one above and plenty of water. A short piece on the New York Times site describes the moment in 1950 when modern snowmaking was invented, when Wayne Pierce, an employee at Mohawk Mountain in Connecticut, improved upon the owner’s plan of trucking in tons of shredded ice:
He figured that a drop of water, propelled through below-freezing air, would turn into a snowflake, [colleague Arthur] Hunt recalled. Along with Dave Richey, their partner in a ski factory, they slapped together a spray-gun nozzle, a 10-horsepower compressor and a garden hose into something of a D.I.Y. snow gun. They experimented with it all night. “By morning,” Hunt wrote, “we had a 20-inch pile of snow over a diameter of 20 feet.” The contraption was later used at Mohawk Mountain.
Snowmaking has since developed quite a bit. While early attempts at snowmaking used just water, these days a special mixture of dirt and water is used to get natural freezing: as we’ve written before, ice crystals usually need a particle to coalesce around, which can be a bit of dirt or even bacteria floating in the atmosphere. These particles are called nucleators.
If you live in the Northeast, chances are you’ve had a disappointingly balmy December so far (the snow seems to have taken a wrong turn somewhere and wound up over Texas instead). But when the air gets that snap and you reach for the wool socks, Emily Eggleston at Scientific American has a few factoids that promise to fascinate. Here’s why wool keeps you warm:
Wool keeps out the cold because it is an excellent insulator. Crimped and crisscrossed woolen fibers create tons of little air pockets. The tiny air masses within my socks have difficulty moving in and out of the fabric. Without convective heat transfer and contact with air of other temperatures, the spaces between wool fibers maintains a steady temperature.
What’s the News: Bacteria are everywhere—in us, on us, around us. But they’re also floating around in the atmosphere, and researchers cracking open hailstones have now discovered them at the core, lending credence to the theory that bacteria jump-start the atmospheric process of forming snow, hail, and rain as a way to hitch a ride down to Earth.