Snow cones in the summer can come in many different flavors. Snow cones made of fresh snow in winter can include a few extra flavors.
Snow in its purest form is just water, but numerous other things could also be included. The ice particles that make up snow have irregular surfaces that can catch, absorb and hold various gaseous and particulate matter. Pollutants in snow could include such things as road salt, soot, pesticides, vehicle exhaust, fur, bacteria, fecal matter, pollen and even trace amounts of mercury.
I can remember at an early age tasting snow, some gritty, some metallic, to some that tasted like dirt. I’ve “condensed” my snow tasting a bit ever since I became a meteorologist and know what may be lurking in snow.
While catching snowflakes on your tongue or tasting just a little bit of fresh snow should do you no harm, eating large amounts of snow could possibly cause issues.
Where and when you collect your snow can make a big difference.
In urban areas, as you might expect, have higher pollution levels in the air than rural locations that will be added to snowfall. Snowstorms can actually bring about short term improvements in air quality by scouring out some of the pollutants in the air. That means that the snow that falls first in a snowstorm will have more pollutants than snow falling after a couple of hours. Fresh snow may be less contaminated than snow that has been on the ground longer. Snow on the ground over time will continue to absorb contaminants and pollution. Moreover, never sample snow that has been plowed from pavement or roadways. Fresh plowed snow will very likely contain sand, salt, petroleum residue and chemicals such as magnesium chloride used as an anti-icing agent on roads.
In rural areas, snowfall may absorb fewer pollutants than in bigger cities but could contain things like dirt, pesticides and whatever else is in the air at the time.
Most fresh snow collected late in an snowstorm may contain contaminants but these pollutants should be below toxic levels. So choose your snow wisely if you want to taste it, as snow does not come without additives.