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What exactly is snow?

Simply put, snow is crystals of ice. 

Snow forms when the temperature is so cold that water vapor in a cloud freezes. The water vapor forms tiny ice crystals that stick together to form snowflakes. An individual snowflake may consist of up to 200 ice crystals. When the snowflakes are big and heavy enough, they fall from the clouds and descend to the ground as snow. Snowflakes fall at different speeds, depending on their size, but the average snowflake falls at a speed of 3 mph.

Snowflakes form in a variety of shapes and sizes. In general, all snowflakes have a six-sided symmetry. This is because of the angle at which the hydrogen and oxygen atoms in each water molecule stick together. However, the rest of a snowflake’s shape is determined by the temperature in the air and by the way the snow is falling from the sky. In cold air, snowflakes tend to be needle-shaped, while in warmer air, they tend to be star- or plate-shaped. Although all snowflakes have six sides, no two snowflakes are identical

How does hail form?

Hail, which is a shower of frozen raindrops, forms inside large cumulonimbus clouds. The fast winds inside these large clouds blow the raindrops very high up, where the air is very cold, causing the raindrops to freeze into small balls of ice, called hailstones. As these balls of ice swirl around inside the cloud, they pick up more water, which freezes into layers of ice around them, making the hailstones grow bigger and heavier. When they become too heavy, they fall from the clouds to the ground. This is the start of a hailstorm.

Hailstones are usually small, but it is not impossible for softball- or grapefruit-sized hail to fall when the weather conditions are really bad! Hailstorms do not last very long - only about five to ten minutes - but that is long enough to damage buildings, cars, and farmers' crops.

What are waterspouts? 

Waterspouts are weak tornadoes that develop over a body of water. Like tornadoes, waterspouts are fast-moving, spinning columns of air, and they only last for a short period of time. Waterspouts extend from a cumulonimbus cloud down to an area of water such as a river or the sea. They range in size from just thirty feet to 5,000 feet high, and they suck up water as they spin. Waterspouts also often suck up unusual objects such as fish, snakes, and frogs. The strong winds in a waterspout can sometimes carry these objects for miles inland before dropping them on unsuspecting towns.

Question of the Month:

This month’s question was submitted by Madeline of Brooklyn, NY.

Q: Dear Professor, My hair seems to be longer when it is humid outside. Is that normal?

A:Your hair is longer on a damp day, because it absorbs water from the air and expands!