The facts behind Sunday’s snow needles


A snapshot of the Sunday, January 24, 2021 snowfall. Unlike the typical snowflake shape, snow needles fell. (Image Credit: Pamela Martin)

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Weather Watcher Pamela Martin sent in this question to the Live Doppler 15 Fury Storm Team after she noticed a unique sight on the ground from Sunday’s snowfall.

On Sunday afternoon, Jan. 24., 2021 we had snow showers off and on, northeast of Decatur, IN.  The snow looked like normal flakes coming down, from a distance. When letting my dog outside, I noticed very unusual looking “snow strands”. Some were about 1 inch long. I’ve lived in northern Indiana for nearly 70 years and have never seen this before. Does your weather team know what causes this? 

Well, Pamela, yes, we have the answer for you.

You see, in order for snow to take on the more typical snowflake shape many of us think of, conditions in the atmosphere would have needed to be colder than they were Sunday. We were cold enough for snow to fall, but warmer higher up in the atmosphere where Sunday’s snow was forming.

The needle shape tells us that temperatures were in between 20° and 25° at the level where this snow developed. The “typical” snowflake shape results when temperatures are around 5°-10° at the level higher up in the atmosphere where the snowflakes form.

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