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Giant Snow Flakes
The grey clouds above me litter the landscape with white chaff, falling in family clumps to form a white duvet over the sleepy landscape. While the exquisite beauty of snow is most obvious in the small crystals that fit the popular concept of a snowflake, giant flakes have their own charm as they spiral and slowly flutter downward.
Most people call almost any frozen form of precipitation, other than hail or sleet, a snowflake. But atmospheric scientists are a bit more fussy. Technically, they reserve the term snowflake for an assemblage of individual snow crystals. Snowflakes form from crystals that have collided and remained fastened together during their fall to earth.
Snow crystals are typically 0.5 to 5 millimetres ( 0.02 to 0.20 inches) in size whereas snowflakes are about 10 mm in size (0.4 inches) and may typically be as large as 20 to 40 mm (0.79 to 1.57 inches), but occasionally some giants will form.
Snowflakes form when air temperatures near the earth's surface are not far from the freezing mark. Snow crystals adhere to each other better at in this temperature range. At very cold temperatures, snowflakes are uncommon, and snow crystals comprise the snow fall.
Exceptionally large snowflakes can exceed 50 mm (2 inches) and contain hundreds of individual crystals. For a snowflake to grow exceptionally large, conditions must be perfect. Besides having ideal temperatures for stickiness, the winds must not be strong or else the large flakes will break up as they fall.
Snowflake size is not a regular measurement for weather observers. But some very large snowflakes have been documented in official reports. The biggest snowflake, reportedly measuring 38 cm (15 inches) by 20 cm (8 inches); fell on January 28, 1887 at Fort Keough, Montana, according to a report in a 1915 issue of Monthly Weather Review. Another giant fell in Bratsk, Siberia in 1971 where residents saw a flake 20 cm (8 inches) by 30 cm (12 inches). Two decades earlier, snowflakes big as saucers, almost 13 cm (5 inches) across, descended on the English town of Berkhamsted. Giant snowflakes 9.52 cm (3.75 inches) across and 0.64 cm (0.25 inch) thick amazed residents of Shirenewton, England in 1888.
The snow continues to fall around the quiet village like fuzzy moths caught in the street lights. And children of all ages eagerly wait for these large snowflakes to land on their coat sleeve or a waiting tongue.
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