Yesterday was THE DAY. The day each year that seems to provide an unending supply of colourful snowflakes. This is one of many that I will be sharing over the next little while and it deserves being placed at No. 50 in this series – view large!
The snow was coming in from a south-westerly direction across land and bot originating from the Great Lakes. The temperatures on the ground were consistently -6C through -8C, but there were signs (needle-type crystals that only form at warmer temperatures) that the snowflakes were forming at warmer temperatures in the sky than on the ground. This uncommon arrangement of environmental variables was bound to create something interesting – and colourful snowflakes with symmetric patterns were born.
Every colour was seen, from the common pinks and cyans generated frequently by thin film interference, to more exotic colours like yellow, blue, and almost red. The colours are derived from the thickness of the bubble trapped in the ice, which affects the thickness of the surrounding snowflake. Shooting in such conditions is an excited bit of chaos, as the crystals were falling rapidly and you need to work as quickly as possible to photograph the magic.
All told, I photographed FOURTY SIX snowflakes on this day. About a dozen or so exhibited signs of “thin film interference” colour, maybe eight of them vibrant examples like this with strong fractal patterns. It took many hours “in the filed” (two feet from my back door), but I didn’t stop until the storm let up. I was kicking myself when out running errands when I noticed these types of snowflakes falling on the car windows, and hurried home as quickly as possible!
A weather system will always create a certain “type” of snowflake. This can change in a half hour or less, but at least for a brief period of time you can see somewhat consistent results. A mix of columns and plates, random aggregate crystals, needles, large dendrites, they all seem to fall together with some consistency. The same is true for rarer varieties like twelve-sided crystals and colourful snowflakes like this. If you see one, you might find another. If you see two, there are likely many more waiting to be discovered.
I could describe all of the physics involved in making a snowflake like this, but I think what’s left to do at this point is to just enjoy it. Appreciate the beauty knowing that every feature can be explained by simple rules and variables in the right quantities, but acknowledging that our natural work can create strange and wonderful things that we never notice in our everyday lives… yet appear right under our nose.
Of course, if you want the brilliantly simple physics, paired with the photographic techniques that bring images like this to life, you need to own a copy of Sky Crystals: https://www.skycrystals.ca/book/ - there is no better snowflake photography resource than this. It’s the perfect book to make winter a little more tolerable. :)