Building the Perfect Snowman
Learn about the science behind a snowman!
Building the perfect snowman is all about science. The snow needs to have the right moisture content. The temperatures need to be perfect. The type of snow is important. And then there is getting the ratio correct. Don’t forget the accessories! So, if you’re around snow at all this winter, here are the things you need to keep in mind to build the perfect snowman!
Snow is frozen water, right? Yes, but there is a difference between moisture and water. Moisture is the presence of a liquid, which means there is still some water that isn’t frozen. The colder it is when the snow forms, the less moisture content there will be.
The temperature on the ground isn’t necessarily what determines this moisture content. The atmospheric temperature plays a role. So does where the water for the snow comes from. The mountains just outside Salt Lake City are famous for low moisture snow because most of the snow is lake effect snow from the Great Salt Lake.
As mentioned above, the temperatures in the atmosphere are important: the colder the snow is when it forms, the less moisture content there will be when it falls. Optimally, you want your snow to fall around 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Think of making a snowball like making a cake. If you just put flour in a bowl, it doesn’t stick too much, but once you get it wet with eggs and water, it sticks together. The moisture content of the snow helps it stick together. And then as the snow compacts, it sticks together and the moisture content freezes up.
Types of snow
Not all snow is the same. The most common, and what you want to build a snowman, is a snowflake. The geometric crystals lock together easily, helping to bond your snowman into one piece. Sometimes you see that kind of snow falling in clumps already, which is perfect for making a snowman.
Other types of snow are ice crystals and ice pellets; these are small pieces of ice that will not stick together and feel and look like salt. Hail is large clumps of ice that bind together before they fall to earth—terrible for snowman making and can actually cause a lot of damage. Snow grain is fine snow that often comes from fog. Lastly, there are snow pellets: tiny soft balls of snow that look like the little Styrofoam balls used to stuff bean bags.
A typical snowman has three tiers, or three snowballs, each smaller than the next one. The ratio, the relationship between the tiers, is important to making the perfect snowman. Typically, the top ball is 1:1, meaning it is the size it is. The next level, the middle is 2:1, and the bottom is 3:1. So if you have a one-foot snowman head, the middle ball is two feet and the bottom is three feet.
Ratios are important. They make things look right. Seashells often follow a natural ratio that was discovered by the mathematician Fibonacci. While a snowman may not be as complex as seashells, keeping the 1:1, 2:1, 3:1 ratios make for the perfect snowman.
Every snowman, or snowperson, needs to be accessorized. The traditional coal and a corn cob pipe are harder to come by these days, but scarves, sticks, and pinecones are easy to find. Other options are using erasable markers to color on the snow or even drink powder.
Whether it’s your first time or 100th time building a snowman, the whole point is to have fun!