Are snowflakes all unique?

Graphic that says Did you know? One cubic foot of snow can contain 1 billion crystals.

We’re in the middle of a blizzard in northwest Iowa. Look outside, and the white stuff looks like a blanket, like it’s all just one mass. But it’s not.

In each cubic foot — that’s a box that is 1 foot on each side — there could be as many as 1 billion snowflakes. Use a tape measure in the yard to mark off 12 inches by 12 inches by 12 inches deep. How many boxes are in your yard?

That’s a lot of snowflakes.

It is thought that about about a septillion snowflakes fall on Earth each year. A septillion is 1 followed by 24 zeroes — 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

How are snowflakes formed?

A snowflake starts when a cold drop of water, less than 32 degrees, freezes onto a tiny piece of pollen or a dust particle in the sky. This ice crystal then falls to the ground, and its shape changes and grows as it falls.

It will twirl and swirl on its journey earthward, bumping into more water molecules that will freeze to it, creating an even larger ice crystal.

Are all snowflakes unique?

The short answer is, yes, because each ice crystal has a unique path to the ground. They will float through different clouds of different temperatures and different levels of moisture, which means the ice crystal will grow in a unique way.

Temperature and humidity — moisture in the air — also impacts the shape of ice crystals. At 23 degrees, ice crystals look longer and more like needles or pillars. At 5 degrees, they are flatter, like plates.

However, it is not likely every snowflake that has ever fallen has been different from each other.

Do all snowflakes have six sides?

Snowflakes are hexagons, which means they have six sides or arms. Since snowflakes are made of water, their molecular structure is H2O (two hydrogen and one oxygen atom). The water molecules look like Vs, and when they line up and freeze together, they will line up in a hexagon shape. As more water molecules are added, they continue to add to the hexagon in an even way, so the hexagon doesn’t change its basic shape, it just grows bigger.

Have fun with it

Snowflakes are amazing, and they also make for fun themed crafts and activities. Try out some of these!


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