The start of the winter season is marked by holiday carolers, hot cocoa, and in some parts of the world, blustery weather. Whether you enjoy bundling up in your coziest gear or are already counting down the days until spring, here are 15 facts about what’s happening outdoors this time of year.
1. IT SOMETIMES SNOWS WHERE YOU LEAST EXPECT IT.
You wouldn’t be shocked to see snow on the ground of Siberia or Minnesota when traveling to those places during the winter months. But northern areas don’t have a monopoly on snowfall—the white stuff has been known to touch down everywhere from the Sahara Desert to Hawaii. Even the driest place on Earth isn’t immune. In 2011, the Atacama Desert in Chile received nearly 32 inches of snow thanks to a rare cold front from Antarctica.
2. SNOWFLAKES COME IN ALL SIZES.
The average snowflake ranges from a size slightly smaller than a penny to the width of a human hair. But according to some unverified sources they can grow much larger. Witnesses of a snowstorm in Fort Keogh, Montana in 1887 claimed to see milk-pan sized crystals fall from the sky. If true that would make them the largest snowflakes ever spotted, at around 15 inches wide.
3. A LITTLE WATER CAN ADD UP TO A LOT OF SNOW.
The air doesn’t need to be super moist to produce impressive amounts of snow. Unlike plain rainfall, a bank of fluffy snow contains lots of air that adds to its bulk. That’s why what would have been an inch of rain in the summer equals about 10 inches of snow in the colder months.
4. YOU CAN HEAR THUNDERSNOW WHEN THE CONDITIONS ARE RIGHT.
If you’ve ever heard the unmistakable rumble of thunder in the middle of a snowstorm, that’s not your ears playing tricks on you. It’s likely thundersnow, a rare winter weather phenomenon that’s most common near lakes. When relatively warm columns of air rise from the ground and form turbulent storm clouds in the sky in the winter, there’s potential for thundersnow. A few more factors are still necessary for it to occur, namely air that’s warmer than the cloud cover above it and wind that pushes the warm air upwards. Even then it’s entirely possible to miss thundersnow when it happens right over your head: Lightning is harder to see in the winter and the snow sometimes dampens the thunderous sound.
5. SNOW FALLS AT 1 TO 6 FEET PER SECOND.
At least in the case of snowflakes with broad structures, which act as parachutes. Snow that falls in the form of pellet-like graupel travels to Earth at a much faster rate.
6. IT DOESN’T TAKE LONG FOR THE TEMPERATURE TO DROP.
Don’t take mild conditions in the…