Posted by: pyeager | January 28, 2010

Are No Two Snow Flakes Identical?

Maybe I have too much time on my hands, but I recently came to the conclusion that the widely held belief that “no two snowflakes are identical” is most likely a weather myth. (I write about many popular weather myths in Weather Whys.)

For me, the belief that it’s a myth is based on two reasons: the number of snowflakes and the way they’re created.

Snowcrystals.com snow flakes and snow crystal images

Snowcrystals.com snow flakes and snow crystal images

Number of Flakes: Near Infinity

A chacha.com article tries to quantify the number of flakes in a 5-ft snowman. Based on average snowflake size of 1/2 inch-diameter and 1/20 inch-thickness (seems a little big to me), the article states that there would be 1.5 million snow flakes in a 5-foot snowman.

Math is not my strong point, but logic is–and those numbers are not even close. Let’s just say that the estimate of 1.5 million flakes would be correct if the flakes were gently placed in the shape of a snowman, which I don’t know if it is. Anyway, correct me if I’m wrong, but a bunch of flakes gently placed in snowman formation would fall to the ground. That’s what snow flakes do.

The flakes inside of a snowman are packed and smashed and smooshed together–they must be compacted to 1/5 or even 1/10 their original size, meaning that there must be 5 or 10 times as many flakes as the above article indicates. In other words, each 5-foot snowman has between 7.5 million and 15 million snowflakes. That’s in just one little snowman.

While I know that anything that can be counted is not infinite in number, the number of snowflakes that has fallen has to be nearly infinite.

How Snow Forms

All snowflakes form through an identical, albeit complicated, process, which can be seen in The Crystal Chemistry of Snowflakes article from the American Chemical Society. Not all snow flakes make it through the complicated 9-step process; many can’t wait to fall on your driveway, so they leave before the process is done.

Conclusion: No Two Snow Flakes Are Identical

A nearly infinite number of flakes has fallen, all of which have gone through the same process. What are the odds that the same process was completed nearly an infinite number of times and not yielded the same result, at least once–especially when a large number of these flakes have not completed the entire process?

It’s virtually impossible that no two have been identical.

Now that that’s been settled, let’s move on to whether there really is a Great Pumpkin….

–Paul Yeager


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