Speaking of snow this winter season/Brian Hess

The winter solstice has passed and winter is now officially here.

With winter in the Copper Country, you can usually count on snow and this year is no exception. Snowbanks are already towering over head level. Snowmobile trailers are getting to be a common sight. Traveling in the bush requires the use of snowshoes, skis, or a snow machine if you intend to move around with any ease. For the people that love the snow, this is proving to be a winter for them.

The snow totals vary from source to source but most agree that Keweenaw County has received more than 170 inches of snowfall so far this 2013-2014 season. One source indicates that the Keweenaw received more than 126 inches in December alone. Could this be the year that breaks the record?

With the recent “Polar Vortex” that’s been on the news helping us along maybe there’s a chance. According to John Dee’s website, in the winter of 78-79 the measured snowfall, albeit taken at the Houghton Airport and not the Keweenaw, was only 119 inches in December. Who knows what the rest of winter will bring?

While researching the snowfall accumulations and trying to figure out what the heck a Polar Vortex is I stumbled upon a whole vocabulary of words to describe snow. There are terms for when it’s falling, what form its falling in, and when it’s on the ground. If you look around a bit you can even find a definition for “pank” on websites claiming to have Yooper dictionaries! Pank means to press or tamp down, and it’s often referring to the process of panking the snow, in case you didn’t know.

As the snow is coming down there is a naming of the different types of snowfall. These appear to have some rules to when they can be applied. A blizzard, it seems, must last for 3 hours or more, have strong winds, and have reduced visibility to less than a quarter-mile. I think it’s safe to say what we saw last Tuesday could be called a blizzard.

The terms go on from snowstorms, snow flurries, through snow squalls. The form in which it is accumulating has different and colorful names. Snowflakes are pretty much self-explanatory, but Hoarfrost, and Graupel are terms I was only vaguely familiar with.

Hoarfrost is the deposit of ice crystals directly from the air onto a surface from a vapor straight to a solid. I’m guessing that this is the same as the fog that comes in and seems to frost everything, especially the trees.

Graupel is a term I should have known. It’s the term for the white snow pellets that aren’t hail but certainly not a snowflake.

If you want to get real technical, they also break down the classification of snowflake formations by the type of crystal water forms. It’s easy to see why they say no two snowflakes are alike.

Once it’s on the ground the terms continue. These have colorful names like Crud, Corn, Firn, or the ever popular with alpine skiers, powder. Get out and enjoy the snow!