At this time of year, we will be looking forward to receiving Christmas cards from friends and relatives. Most of these will feature either landscapes of snow, or snow men. We will be listening at some time to the old music favourites, such as White Christmas or Winter Wonderland. We may even be looking forward to some snow, either for fun or sport.
Have you ever stopped to think about snow, or even had queries about it? Or do you think it's an unwelcome nuisance, and dismiss it?
Although we have had a limited amount of snow fall over the past few years here in England, other parts of the world receive great amounts of it, not always expected in the quantity that falls. Snowfall is very difficult to predict, even when it is expected, especially for areas which depend on falls of snow for skiing, etc, sometimes giving other areas far more than they anticipated, or were prepared for. Earlier this year, the UK ground to a halt because of a fall of snow, leaving people stranded due to failed vehicles on motorways, snow on railway tracks, and public transport problems. The snow which fell was much less than parts of the USA receive, and yet they manage to cope well.
Snow itself has many strange properties. Have you ever wondered why it's white? Why it crunches when we walk on it? Why it's warm? Why it seems blue in places? How everything sounds different when it's snowed? Have you ever looked at a snowflake and wondered how it formed, or why all flakes are different?
The study of snow flakes has become a scientific study to try to discover how they form and how they differ in various places. There is a whole website dedicated to the world of snowflakes and the studies - www.snowcrystals.com - which will answer many of the queries above, complete with many exquisite photos of snowflakes, and all things ice related.
Many people elect to take holidays in the winter, but instead of heading to warmer climes, they opt to spend their time in chillier places with plenty of snow, for skiing and snowboarding. Some take to even more extreme sports, like ice climbing. One man I used to work with took two weeks holiday between November and February each year and headed off abroad to climb frozen waterfalls and icy mountains just for fun. Not content with just reaching the summit, he then took to paragliding down from the peak! He said there was no feeling quite like it - that's not for me, I'd rather stay indoors and watch the snow falling than trudge around in it, far less climb ice and plummet like a lemming with only a sheet of nylon between me and the ground far below.
Photography in snow can be difficult. Finding a camera that can be used easily with gloves on can be trying. The cold can cause batteries to fail and flash produces a glare. With such an intense light, snow landscapes can be tricky. Colours can also be difficult to capture. The camera lens and film does not see light the same way as our eyes, and results can be disappointing. Going to the other extreme, using a camera to capture a single snowflake is painstaking work. Imagine separating a large fluffy snowflake into it's component flakes onto a dark background, working against time before the flakes melt, then setting up the camera for the correct exposure and focus to get the right shot. Snowflakes are transparent and give a clearer detail when photographed on glass slides, rather than black cloth or similar.
Although very picturesque, fascinating in minute detail or immense fun if you're young at heart, snow can be a killer too. Driving in a sudden fall of snow or in a blizzard can be hazardous, especially when the snow is wind driven into drifts, resulting in blocked roads and congested traffic. A good safety precaution in wintertime is to carry a sleeping bag in your vehicle in case you have to stop. At least you can keep warm while you wait for assistance. Something to drink (hot or cold) and high protein chocolate bars are sensible too, as you may have to wait in your vehicle for a while before help arrives. Attempting to walk to get help can be foolhardy and could cost you your life.
Even at home, severe cold can be a risk. A heavy fall of snow can damage phone lines, block roads, close schools and factories, leaving you isolated, possibly without heat or light. Lay in a supply of candles, a torch and batteries, keep one room warm, and reduce movement throughout the rest of the house. Keep plenty of soup and tinned foods available - don't forget your tin-opener. Be assured, snow will thaw eventually, usually culminating in flooding.
A tip for kids and adults alike - if you have to play/work in the snow, wear a pair of rubber gloves under your gloves to keep your hands dry. Wet hands and cold winds make you feel very miserable, and can also give you frostbite. Wellies - however unflattering - are a must for the feet, and several light layers of clothing are better than one heavy layer for keeping the body warm. If you are cold, a warm bath or shower warms you up quickly, but keep the temperature very low, raising it when you start to feel cold again. A sudden rise in external temperature causes more problems than it solves.
Enjoy the snow when it falls, as it is a rare event in most parts of the world, and keep safe. If you really don't like it much, at least keep warm and enjoy the rest of this magazine until the snow thaws.