Lake Michigan's Left Coast

Green Talk: The White Stuff

December 2015

Elizabeth G Fagan wrote a column for the Ozaukee County News Graphic on behalf of Mequon Nature Preserve in 2015–16
More about the digital artist Elizabeth G Fagan

Basking in the near-warmth of early December, Ozaukeeans might wonder, “Where’s the white stuff?” Forecasters say the El Niño winter of 2015–16 will bring warmer-than-average temperatures, but precipitation will probably remain close to normal.

Whether it lightly powders our evergreens for Christmas or dumps heavily on our sidewalks in March, snow always starts the same way: as water vapor, ice crystals, and dust that collide in very cold clouds. Depending on air temperature, snowflakes take various shapes. The folk wisdom that no two snowflakes can be alike is almost true. It could happen, but the likelihood of two identical snowflakes forming within the lifetime of the universe is indistinguishable from zero.

Any heavy snowfall can be called a snowstorm. In a true blizzard, snow and wind combine to obscure visibility for several hours. Snow shower is a term for an intermittent snowfall, while flurry is used for very light, brief snowfalls. Thundersnow is a thunderstorm with snow instead of rain. While rare anywhere in the world, thundersnow is more common in our Great Lakes region, usually with lake-effect snow.

On the ground, snow texture ranges from the dry, light powder that skiers prefer to the heavy, wet slush that seems to fall on our driveways. Highly branched (dendritic) snow crystals create lower-density, “dry” snow. Columnar or plate-like crystals form dense, “wet” snow. With melting and refreezing cycles, even the most picturesque Christmas snowfall can turn front steps into icy hazard zones by New Year’s Eve.

Join Mequon Nature Preserve for winter camping with REI on Thursday, January 28th, 2016, beginning at 5:30pm. This season’s Winter Frolic is on Saturday, February 6th, 2016, from 10am to 4pm. Sleigh rides on the restored prairie were part of the fun at our last Winter Frolic. Like us on Facebook for more news and updates!

Open year-round, Mequon Nature Preserve is at 8200 W. County Line Road, Mequon. Visit us at or call (262) 242-8055 for more information. Like us on Facebook for news and events.

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