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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Without magical ice princess powers, building the perfect snowman can be a serious challenge. Often people's efforts turn out a little lumpy or lopsided and quickly melt into unrecognizable shapes. If you do decide to build one, it helps to have science on your side.

Understanding the physical properties of snow can help you figure out whether your masterpiece is even feasible. Scientists classify snow based on its moisture contentthe amount of free water relative to ice crystals. Snow comes in five categories: dry (zero percent water), moist (less than 3 percent), wet (3 to 8 percent), very wet (8 to 15 percent) and slush (more than 15 percent).

Moist to wet snow is ideal for snowman building, according to Jordy Hendrikx, a snow scientist at Montana State University. Dry snow is like a loose powder with particles that don't stick together very well, while 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 air temperature during a snowstorm determines the amount of water in snow. Wet and moist snows fall at around 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures that are far below-freezing make for drier snow, because 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, a physicist at Rhode Island College in Providence.

This special blend of moist or wet snow falls when it is fairly warmjust a degree or two above or below freezing. On the U.S. East Coast, a cool, wet Nor'easternot unlike the blizzards that have hit the Northeast this winterwould do the trick. Frigid conditions would more likely sprinkle the dry powder that offers a soft, smooth ride that is ideal for skiing, but not for building snowmen.

Once the raw material is on the ground, it's time to build your snowman. Spheres are the best building blocks. Forming snowballs and packing the snow together exerts pressure on the ice crystals so that some of them melt during construction. "After melting, the water will crystallize once again, binding together the snowball," Snowman notes.

Stacking the spheres in the usual large to medium to small structure is the way to go to avoid toppling. "Keeping the snowman's center of mass low is paramount in the construction of any snowman," says Snowman. The center of mass refers to the point in any object where its mass is concentrated the closer that point is to the ground, the less likely a vertical object is to fall over.

Looking at snowman-building as a way to teach basic engineering principles, students at Bluefield State College in West Virginia suggest that the optimal diameter ratio for the snowballs is 3:2:1 from bottom to top. This ratio keeps the base at a sufficient size to support the combined weight of the top two snowballs. And don't build your snowman too big, because there may be an upper limit to the size of the spheres related to the water content of the snow.

Building your snowman in spheres can also help it achieve longevity, because the shape minimizes the surface area exposed to rising temperatures, and thus slows down melting. Unfortunately, melting is inevitable 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 33 times

  • cristinal-Koc
    3/02/2015 - 02:35 a.m.

    I was actually surprised reading this article. Reading through the first few paragraphs explaining what types of snow we should use to make a snowman made a lot of sense. I never really thought of it but when it explained that you need moisture but not too many then that's the right type of snow. Speaking of the right type of snow I really did think that snow in general is fine to make the perfect snowman, but really its not if the snow has no moisture or has to many. Overall I feel like this article was fun to read and was really interesting, it also taught me a lot.

  • albertog-Che
    3/02/2015 - 11:54 a.m.

    Snowmen are very fun to make and can get annoying at times. The temperature should be one or two degrees above freezing to get the perfect snowman made. It can't be too cold or else the snow will just fall apart and wont get stuck because most of it is crystal and cant get stuck with each other.

  • brianp-Che
    3/02/2015 - 11:55 a.m.

    i had no idea there was such a thing as a snow scientist. let alone that there are FIVE categories of snow! Building snowmen is a great activity to do when the winter arrives

  • rm00pennie
    3/02/2015 - 01:38 p.m.

    depending on the snow will depend on how the good the snow man will be or not. too much snow is hard to work with because its too icy to build with but to little snow isnt any better, too little snow isnt strong enough to stick together.

  • makaylar-Che
    3/02/2015 - 01:46 p.m.

    because its just like sand you need water for it to stay up so if you use to much of it then it will fall apart so you need the right amount of it just to make it perfect.

  • rositap-Che
    3/02/2015 - 01:47 p.m.

    For me its not necessary to have a prefect snowman cause then your doing the most. For some people they need to. I find it weird how they use science to make a perfect snowman like I would of never thought of that.

  • erice-Che
    3/02/2015 - 01:48 p.m.

    I think that its odd to need science to build a snowman that look good, but It sorta makes sense because everything involves either math, & or science.

  • treyb-Che
    3/02/2015 - 01:54 p.m.

    everybody love to building a snowman but in some place don't get no snow to play but all the other do get snows some get a lot of snow and some place get a inch of snow.

  • tylerr-Che
    3/02/2015 - 02:10 p.m.

    There is no prefect snow man but there been the biggest snowman ever but there is no such thing as a prefect and nobody know how too do it.

  • Tessak-Lam
    3/02/2015 - 02:18 p.m.

    Wow! I have never thought this much about building a snowman! I just put one ball of snow on top of the other, I didn't know that there is a "science" to building a snowman! I thought it was really interesting that there are different types of snow like dry, moist, wet, very wet, and slush. I just thought it was just called "snow", I didn't know that there are so many types! I also didn't know that there is a specific temperature when it is good to make a snowman. Apparently it is good to make one when it is a few degrees above or below freezing. Well, at least now I know that all these years I have been building snowmen wrong!

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