Little known facts about... cold weather

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Winter has given us a little “one - two” punch lately, reminding us that we do live on the northern plains of South Dakota. The bitter cold temperatures do make us groan and shiver, but maybe we can find some interesting facts about our cold weather.

• Snowflakes come in all sizes. The average snowflake ranges from a size slightly smaller than a penny to the width of a human hair. A witness of a snowstorm in Montana in 1887 claimed to see milk-pan sized crystals fall from the sky. If true, that would make the largest snowflake spotted at around 15 inches wide.

• All snowflakes have six sides.

• A little snow can add up to a lot of snow. Fluffy snow contains lots of air that adds to its bulk. One inch of rain in the summer equals about 10 inches of snow in the colder months. Scientists peg the perfect snow to water ratio of 5:1 for building a snow man.

• A single snowstorm can drop 39 million tons of snow. There is an average of 105 snow-producing storms in the U.S. in a typical year.

• Around 12% of Earth’s land surface is covered in snow and ice.

• The snowiest city on Earth is in Japan. In northern Japan, Aomori City receives more snowfall than any major city on the planet, about 312 inches or 26 feet of snow on average each year.

• Sometimes snowballs form themselves. Mysteriously, giant snowballs washed up on the beach of Ob in Siberia. The ice orbs were formed naturally by the rolling motions of wind and water, with some spheres reaching up of nearly three feet in width.

• Cities are forced to dispose of snow in creative ways. Besides piling in wide open spaces where it can sit until the weather warms, some cities are forced to employ snow melters that use hot water to melt 30 to 50 tons of snow an hour. The method is quick but costly – a single machine can cost $200,000 and burn 60 gallons of fuel in an hour of use.

• The average snowflakes fall at 3 mph.

• Many insects prepare for winter by creating their own “antifreeze.” During the fall, insects produce more glycerol, which gives their body a super-cooling ability by allowing bodily fluids to drop below freezing point, making them more cold-tolerant and protecting their tissues and cells from ice damage. Their glycerol levels drop again during the spring.

• A New Zealand insect called the Weta freezes completely solid when temperatures drop during the winter. However, when temperatures warm back up, the insect thaws and resumes its activities.

• Many mosquito species live through the winter as adults. In the fall, mosquitos mate, but only the male dies. The females spend the cold months hidden in a protected place.

• Sunsets are typically prettier in the winter. Cold, non-humid air is clearer than warm summer air, which allows the colors of the sun to shine through more clearly.

• Some plants, both annual and perennial, require “vernalization” to flower, meaning that a plant needs to experience a period of lower winter temperatures to initiate or increase the flowering process in the spring and summer.

Sources: www.factretriever.com, www.mentalfloss.com

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