As I write this, we are sitting here in Michigan after having experienced a record snowfall for one day. As we shovel and snow-blow our driveways and around our mailboxes, we hear a great deal of abusive language from our neighbors. Still, there is a great deal of good in every snowflake because of the design of snow.
It is not just the aesthetic value of snowflakes that makes them good, although that certainly is a wonderful thing to see under a hand lens or microscope. The snow has a variety of other positive attributes designed into its structure.
A snowflake is made of water which is a polar molecule meaning that it has a positive and a negative end. The reason ice forms and water expands as it freezes is that the positive end of one molecule is attracted to the negative end of the next molecule. This structure also allows the snowflake to attract particles in the atmosphere that have a polar makeup. Salt, for example, has a sodium atom which has a plus charge, attracted to chlorine which has a negative charge. A salt molecule in the atmosphere will be attracted to a snowflake. Even molecules such as carbon compounds, which do not generally have a polarity, are attracted to the snowflakes. Snow cleans the air, and many of us enjoy being outside when it is snowing because of the freshness and purity it gives the air.
Snow stores water in places where water shortages are a problem. The western United States gets heavy snow in the mountains in winter. Water has a high heat of fusion. What that means is that it takes extra energy to melt ice–80 calories per gram of ice to be exact. For that reason, snow stays in the solid state for a long time after the temperature has risen above freezing. That allows snow to melt slowly sending a constant supply of water to dry areas at lower elevations.
The design of snow is also friendly to animals, especially small animals. When the snow is finally off the ground here in Michigan, there will be small tunnels visible in the ground where mice, voles, squirrels, and other small animals have built passageways under the snow. The low temperatures of the air in winter are not a problem for these animals because the snow is a good insulator. Predators cannot easily get to the animals because the snow covers them from aerial attacks.
Water is unique in many ways. Its freezing temperature and its boiling temperature are only 100 Celsius degrees apart. That allows water to exist on our planet as a solid, a liquid, and a gas. Each of those states of water allows some form of life to exist.
In Job 38:22 God questions Job, “Have you entered into the treasures of the snow? Or have you seen the treasures of ice which I have reserved against the time of trouble…” The Hebrew word translated “treasure” in this verse is atsar meaning “a thing laid up.” It is doubtful that Job knew anything about the water cycle or how he benefited from snow. But the God who designed snow and its role on Earth to benefit humans and all living things certainly knew all about the design of snow.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Michigan also has “summer snow”