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Why is Snow White?

7 Dec 2017, 8:50 pm

We all know why it’s yellow, but why is it white?

It is time for a late night snack in snow covered Gaylord, MI.

Posted by WeatherNation on Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Light and Color

Light as we know it is actually made up of an entire spectrum of colors. A great representation of this is a prism that bends white light into it’s rainbow of colors.
The rainbow of colors comes out as objects absorb portions of the light spectrum and reflect back the colors we see.

For instance, the fancy red sports car we covet absorbs every color of the spectrum except red. The red light then reflects off the car and our eyes pick up the iconic shade we all know.

Similarly, the grass in your front yard absorbs every color of the rainbow but reflects back the green light– giving us the classic green grass we all know.

But with snow it’s a little different.

Snow

Snow is made up of a bunch of tiny ice crystals. Those crystals come together to give us those unique snowflakes.
You may notice that when you catch one, there is a lot of space between each crystalline structure.

That space is what makes snow fluffy once it accumulates. In fact, the more space between crystals, the more fluff the snow will have.

Reflection

When light hits snow, it moves through it– reflecting and refracting off all of the tiny ice crystals.

As light reflects back toward us off the ice crystals, we get the whole spectrum. Since no particular color absorbs, the light reflected and therefore the snow, is white!

Even cooler (pun intended) is looking into an azule iceberg. The iceberg appears to be blue because the white light actually gets trapped deep inside the glacier. And since it is travelling much deeper into the ice than the surface of the snow. The longer wavelengths, like red, scatter– so they don’t reflect back into our eyes.
That’s why glaciers and even water look blue!

Check back soon, next I’ll explore the reason it always seems so quiet after a big snow storm.

For WeatherNation — Meteorologist Jeremy LaGoo

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