How to build the perfect snowman
How to build the perfect snowman A snowman stands in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington (AP photo / Reuters)
How to build the perfect snowman
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Building the perfect snowman can be difficult. Often snowmen can turn out a little lumpy or lopsided. They can quickly melt into unrecognizable shapes. Suppose you decide to build one. It helps to have science on your side.

Understanding the physical properties of snow can help you figure out whether a snowman is even possible. Scientists classify snow based on its moisture content. That's the amount of free water compared to ice crystals. Snow comes in five categories. Dry snow is 0 percent water. Moist snow is less than 3 percent. Wet snow is 3 to 8 percent. Very wet is 8 to 15 percent. Slush is more than 15 percent.

Moist to wet snow is ideal for snowman building. That's according to Jordy Hendrikx. She's a snow scientist at Montana State University. Dry snow is like loose powder. Its particles don't stick together well. Slush is too fluid to hold a shape. "You can think of the free water as the glue.' You need enough to stick the crystals together, but not too much. Otherwise it won't form a solid snowman," says Hendrikx.

The amount of water in snow depends on air temperature during a snowstorm. Wet and moist snows fall at or around 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures that are far below freezing make drier snow. More water particles freeze into crystals. "Years of experimentation and research with my kids reveal a snow-to-water equivalence of about 5:1 yields the snow ideal for building the perfect snowman," says Dan Snowman. He is a physicist at Rhode Island College in Providence.

Moist or wet snow falls when it is just above or below freezing. Dry powder is more likely when it is colder. Powder offers a soft, smooth ride that is ideal for skiing. But it is not good for building snowmen.

The snow is on the ground. It's time to build your snowman. Spheres are the best building blocks. Forming snowballs and packing the snow together creates pressure on the ice crystals. The pressure makes some crystals melt. "After melting, the water will crystallize once again, binding together the snowball," Snowman notes.

You want to keep the spheres from toppling. So stack them in the usual large to medium to small structure. "Keeping the snowman's center of mass low is paramount in the construction of any snowman," says Snowman. The center of mass is the point where the mass is concentrated. The closer that point is to the ground, the less likely a structure is to fall over.

Students at Bluefield State College in West Virginia see snowman-building as a way to teach basic engineering principles. They say the diameter ratio for the snowballs is 3:2:1 from bottom to top. This ratio keeps the base large enough to support the combined weight of the top two snowballs. And don't build your snowman too big. The water content of the snow may limit the size of the spheres.

Building your snowman in spheres can also help it last longer. The shape reduces the surface area exposed to rising temperatures. So it slows down melting. Unfortunately, melting is certain as temperatures rise. Thanks to Frozen, we all know what happens to snowmen in summer.

Critical thinking challenge: Explain how moisture in snow acts like "glue," and explain why too much or too little doesn't work.

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Assigned 102 times

  • ashleighb-Hyl
    3/03/2015 - 11:58 a.m.

    I really liked this article. It is very interesting that you can use science to build a perfect snowman. It is a coincidence that the person who studies snow is named Don Snowman! In this article I learned the difference of snow. It can be wet, dry, very wet, or moist. I give this article a thumbs up! :)

  • nolanb-Hyl
    3/03/2015 - 12:00 p.m.

    I think this article was very interesting. Also I never new the moisture content helped with building a snowmen. Also I never new that moist - wet snow fell around the freezing mark. This article can teach you a lot about what snow is good to build a perfect snowman and how to build a perfect snowman.

  • AlexN-Kut
    3/10/2015 - 12:54 p.m.

    After reading this I'd want to try this out. But now i know that moisture is in snow regularly when its below zero. If you were to add to much moisture into the snow it can be like slush almost. But if you add to little of moisture it'll act like a powder that wont pack at all.

  • AmareM-Phe
    3/11/2015 - 10:56 a.m.

    that snow man passage shore does have science about snow mans. But the questions where HARD!!!!

  • ShecklenZ-Sua
    3/27/2015 - 01:53 a.m.

    To much water will have the ice not keep its form and dry snow is like powder.#1 I got it in the article what to say i just put my own words. #2 dry snow is like loose powder. #3 You can think of the free water as the glue You need enough to stick the crystals together.

  • John0724-YYCA
    6/22/2015 - 05:27 p.m.

    I believe that this article is true because the last time I built a snowman it looked like a snowman that got ran over by a big truck which would look messy and when I tried to make the snowman from snowballs it looked much more better than my first snowman I made and now I know why it works better of creating a snowman with snowballs. Building a snowman with snowballs are better because it would last longer than other shaped snowmen because the shape reduces the surface area exposed to rising temperatures. And also the ratio keeps the base large enough to support the combined weight of the top two snowballs.

  • wesleyr-kus
    10/26/2015 - 03:25 p.m.

    I like this because I love snow. Also because we live in Ohio and it snows every year.

  • katherinef-bog
    1/14/2016 - 09:57 a.m.

    I like to build a snowman.There fun to do and i like the fact that the snow has to be wet to make the snowman. I still make a snowman and i enjoyed the story HOW TO MAKE A PERFECT SNOWMAN ; )

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