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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, April 17, 2014

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Snow gets less likely as temperatures turn colder and colder, but it still happens.
Snow gets less likely as temperatures turn colder and colder, but it still happens.

Can it be too cold to snow?

It cannot be too cold to snow. Snow can form at any temperature provided the right conditions exist.

As long as there is water vapor in the air (which there always is), and conditions exist which chill that air to the point of condensation, precipitation will develop. When the temperature is below freezing, that precipitation will be snow.

Still, it is true that it becomes increasingly difficult for snow to develop as it gets colder.

As air gets colder, it can hold less and less water vapor. For example, air at 0 degrees can hold less water vapor than air at 30 degrees. Therefore, there is less moisture available to become snow in air at 0 degrees than air at 30 degrees does. Plus, conditions which chill air to the point of condensation are less likely to occur when it’s very cold.

Given that very cold air has low moisture content, when it does snow, the flakes are light and fluffy. Conversely, the nearer the temperature is to freezing when snow is falling, the heavier and stickier the flakes tends to be.

So, can it be too cold to snow? No.

But, does snow become less likely when it’s very cold? Yes.


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