Rare weather event produces spontaneous snowballs This Jan. 30, 2016 photo provided by The Nature Conservancy shows a rare weather event that caused spontaneous snowballs at The Nature Conservancy’s Silver Creek Preserve and surrounding fields near the tiny town of Picabo, Idaho. (Sunny Healey/The Nature Conservancy via AP)
Rare weather event produces spontaneous snowballs
Lexile

Thousands of snowballs rolled in a flat central Idaho field look like the work of hundreds of determined kids, except there are no human tracks.
 
A rare weather event caused the spontaneous snowballs at the Nature Conservancy's Silver Creek Preserve and surrounding fields. They are near the tiny town of Picabo.
 
Preserve manager Sunny Healey spotted the cylindrical shapes up to 18 inches high on Jan. 30 following an overnight windstorm. They created long lines in the snow as they moved.
 
"You could see the tracks that they made. And I thought that was really curious," Healey said. "I had to stop a couple times. Then, along Highway 20, there were thousands of them."
 
So-called snow rollers are so rare and fleeting that the precise weather conditions needed to form them are not defined, said Jay Breidenbach.  He is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Snow rollers up to 18 inches are especially rare.
 
"Those are some pretty big rollers," Breidenbach said. "I've seen some small rollers. But never that big."
 
In general, it takes a curious combination of a couple of inches of snow with the right water density and temperatures near freezing, followed by strong winds, he said.
 
"It can't be real dry snow or it would blow into drifts," Breidenbach said.
 
Rollers require some type of firmer base, such as a frozen layer of earlier snow, for the new powder to start rolling on. Plus, the wind must be strong and steady. But not with powerful gusts that could damage the formations.
 
"It would probably blow them apart because they are fragile," Breidenbach said.
 
It snowed on Jan. 29, with the snow becoming wetter toward evening, Healey said. She lives at the preserve. She said the winds woke her up.
 
In her five years working at the preserve, she had never seen such an event. But a local rancher in his 70s told her he's spotted them twice.
 
"We know basically how they form and why they form, but we don't know the exact details," Breidenbach said. "It would be interesting to go there with some weather instruments to watch them form."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How did wind create the snowballs?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (81)
  • sieversc1-gau
    2/25/2016 - 02:05 p.m.

    I think the snow in the air formed. I think the weather in the air was perfect to make a snowball.

  • babelm1-gau
    2/25/2016 - 02:06 p.m.

    I think the snowballs were formed by the wind of the hill because the snow could be sticky and then they rolled down the hill.

  • stautere1-gau
    2/25/2016 - 02:09 p.m.

    That would be awesome to see the snow balls form?? also it still doesn't tell you how they get the holes in them??

  • kennedyc1-gau
    2/25/2016 - 02:21 p.m.

    Well the wind catches the snow and they clump together and make snowballs and also the snow isn't soft it is where you make snow balls and that is how it makes the snowballs:)

  • aidano-1-bar
    2/25/2016 - 03:59 p.m.

    The wind creates to snowballs by rolling snow with the combination of a couple of inches of snow, the right water density,temperatures near freezing, and a firm base. "Rollers require some type of firmer base, such as a frozen layer of earlier snow, for the new powder to start rolling on. Plus, the wind must be strong and steady. But not with powerful gusts that could damage the formations." I found this article very interesting because for there to be that many snow balls without human help is incredible.

  • josiec-1-bar
    2/25/2016 - 07:07 p.m.

    The wind created snowballs by, "First having a firmer base... then powder to start rolling on by steady wing patterns blowing in one direction." Meteorologists say that it is a very rare find to find snow-rollers so big. The snow-rollers were about 18 inches high. For these sow-rollers to happen there needs to be perfect conditions such as steady winds, a lot of powder and a flat surface. My opinion is that it would probably take a long time for these snow-rollers to form.

  • grantm-2-bar
    2/25/2016 - 07:41 p.m.

    Wind created the snowballs by pushing snow over and gathering more snow to create snow balls. The high winds made it so the snowballs could be formed. The snow wastorm not to soft or to hard, it was just right to make snowballs. Some people call the snow packing snow, because it is so easy to pack the snow together. This is how wind can crelate snowballs.

  • heatherm-4-bar
    2/25/2016 - 07:43 p.m.

    the odd weather lately, the snow mixed with the wind has been forming odd snowballs that looks as if children have been making them. They searched and there are no human tracks, therefore leaving it the the wind, rolling the snow. I chose this article because personally i love to make snowballs

  • jennaw-1-bar
    2/25/2016 - 08:06 p.m.

    In this article we learn about how the wind made snowballs. Throughout this essay you might wonder how that happened, and this is why. There was a thin layer of ice and on top of the was a layer of snow, but the snow was more of a powder, so when the wind blew hard, but not to hard it rolled the powder kind of snow which made the form of the snowballs. The evidence shows that "firmer base, such as a frozen layer of earlier snow, for the new powder to start rolling on. Plus, the wind must be strong and steady." This shows that my conclusion is correct

  • ellans-1-bar
    2/25/2016 - 08:12 p.m.

    Wind created the snowballs, by rolling real dry snow into balls. In this article it states that, "In general, it takes a curious combination of a couple of inches of snow with the right water density and temperatures near freezing, followed by strong winds, he said." So, it takes a certain amount of wind to create these snowballs. I think this article is interesting, because it displays how the Earth's rare conditions can make the weirdest things.

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