Unless otherwise noted, information contained in each edition of the Kansas School Naturalist reflects the knowledge of the subject as of the original date of publication.

Volume 2, Number 2 - December 1955



KSN - Vol 2, No 2 - Snow

THE COVER PICTURE was taken by Paul Elmore of McPherson, on the Smoky Hill River below the Kanopolis Reservoir. It is from the same negative as the cover picture of the October issue of The Kansas Sportsman, which permitted us to use it.

PDF of Issue


Published by
The Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia

John E. King, President

Prepared and Issued by
The Department of Biology, with the cooperation of the Divisions of Education and Social Science

Editor: John Breukelman, Head, Department of Biology
Editorial Committee: Ina M. Borman, Helen M. Douglass, Dixon Smith

The Kansas School Naturalist is sent upon request, free of charge, to any citizen of Kansas.

The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February and April of each year by The Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia, Kansas. Second-class mail privileges authorized at Emporia, Kansas.


Everyone who has observed at least one Kansas winter knows what snow is, but he may not have thought much about it except that it is white and cold and that it drifts. Many questions might be asked about snow, such as:

What can you do with it?

What good is it?

What harm is done by it?

How can you control it?

How is it formed?

How much water is there in an inch of snow?

What is the effect of a snow cover on the ground underneath?

How deep does snow get in Kansas?

What is the effect of a layer of snow on top of the ice that covers a pond or lake in winter?

How long does snow remain on the ground in a Kansas winter?

What is 'black snow"?

What is a "black blizzard"?

Where do most blizzards occur?

How does snow differ from hail?

Is it true that snow comes only in winter and hail only in summer?

How does snow differ from frost?

Where do snowdrifts form?

When a roof is covered with snow, is the snow distributed evenly?

Where does snow on a roof melt first?

Where do icicles form?

What is a snowflake?

What is a snow crystal?

Is it true that no two snowflakes are alike?

Are snowflakes formed according to a common pattern?

How do you go about examining them?

How do you go about building a snow house?

What is the average snowfall in Kansas?

Do all parts of Kansas get about the same amount of snow per year?

During what part of the year does most snow fall in Kansas?

Some, but not all, of these questions are answered in this issue of The Kansas School Naturalist. The answers to those not answered here will come from books on science, geography, and the like, from newspapers, and from various other sources. We hope that many of these questions, and many other questions as well, will be answered out of your own experience and observations.

The upper map shows the average number of inches of snowfall per year, based on all available records through 1945. The lower map shows the average number of days per year the ground was covered with snow. In calculating these averages the ground was considered covered when an average depth of 0.1 inch or more was reported. These two maps were redrawn from Climate in Kansas, page 116.


S. D. Flora reported in his book Climate In Kansas that snowfall in Kansas averages less than that of any state to the west of it, except Arizona and possibly California, and less than that of any other state east of the Rockies located as far north as Kansas. The annual fall ranges from about 10 inches along the Oklahoma line to approximately 24 inches in the northwestern counties. The month of heaviest snowfall is February, although in some years the month during which most snow fell has been November, December, January, March, or even April.

The upper map shows the average annual snowfall over the entire state, based on all available records from 1878 to 1945. During the 58 years on which the map is based, the heaviest snowfall of the year occurred 3 times in November, 11 times in December, 10 times in January, 18 times in February, 13 times in March, and twice (5.6 inches in 1920, and 5.4 inches in 1938) in April. During these 58 years, snow has been recorded in some part of the state in every month except July and August.

On the average the ground is covered with snow from 10 to 15 days a year in the southeastern counties to from 30 to 35 days along the northern border. On a few occasions snow has remained on the ground in some sections of the state for as long as two months. The lower map shows the average for the state, based on all available records through 1945.

From the beginning of records through the snowfall season of 1954-55, the largest snowfall recorded in Kansas in one 24-hour period was 26 inches at Fort Scott, December 28-29, 1954. Other unusually heavy 24-hour snowfalls have been recorded, as follows:

25 inches, Ulysses, Feb. 26, 1903; Kansas City, Mar. 23-24, 1912

24 inches, Wamego, Feb. 27, 1900

22 inches, Macksville, Feb. 25, 1912

20 inches, Richfield, Feb. 25, 1912; Plains, Dec. 19, 1911; McPherson, Feb. 25, 1912; Olathe and Lawrence, Mar. 23, 1912; Belleville, Apr. 3, 1920; Hoxie, Feb. 28, 1939

Snow does not usually accumulate to great depths in Kansas, because of the frequent periods of mild weather even in midwinter. Sometimes, however, snow piles up when there are repeated snowfalls during a long period of below-freezing weather. The greatest depth of snow on record in Kansas was 30 inches, at Richfield, Feb. 26, 1903 and at Olathe, Mar. 29, 1912. Depths of 24 inches or more have been recorded a number of times, as follows:

29 inches, Scott City, Dec. 24, 1918

28 inches, Norton, Mar. 14, 1912

26 inches, Fort Scott, Dec. 30, 1954

25 inches, Ulysses, Feb. 26, 1903; Kansas City, Mar. 24, 1912

24 inches, Wamego, Feb. 27, 1900; Phillipsburg, Mar. 4, 1915

Flora, S. D., Climate In Kansas, Kansas State Board of Agriculture, Topeka, Kansas, 320 pp., 1948.

Editor's note: In a personal letter dated December 7, 1955, R. A. Garrett of the United States Weather Bureau Office at Topeka, Kansas, said: "In checking the original record for the heavy snow at Syracuse in 1918 we concluded that the 40 inches was not the accumulated depth on the ground, and have cancelled this entry." The Kansas School Naturalist wishes to thank Mr. Garrett for this correction of the record as found in Climate In Kansas, and to call attention to the fact that the official record is 30 inches rather than 40.


snow may provide shelter for wildlife

It supplies water for trees, crops, wildflowers, wildlife, and domestic animals, as well as for lakes, ponds, and streams.

Snow does not supply water for plants unless it is spread somewhat evenly over the ground, so that when the snow melts the water soaks in. A deep snowdrift in a roadside ditch does not help the adjoining field or pasture. A bare plowed field does not hold snow, but a weed patch or stubble covered field does. A hedgerow brush thicket also helps. Some of the "clean farming" practices, which give the wind a clean sweep over a field, are not very wise in
this respect.

Snow protects soil from extremely low temperatures. Plants can survive much colder weather when the ground in which they have their roots is covered with a blanket of snow, than they can when the ground is bare.

On a really cold winter day, in a place where the sun is not shining, you may lay one thermometer on the surface of a bare soil area and cover another with several inches of snow. After an hour or so see whether or not both thermometers register the same temperature. You may be surprised if you bury several thermometers at different depths in a snowdrift. If the outdoor temperature is much below freezing, you may find the deepest part of the snowdrift is the warmest. The snow acts as a blanket as a drift forms over weeds and brush, hollow places are left where rabbits, bobwhite, or other animals can burrow and be protected. The temperature at the bottom of a deep snowdrift does not drop much below 32° F, no matter how cold the air above the drift may be. The drawings on this page and snapshot No.4 on page 15 show how snow may provide shelter for wildlife.

snow may provide shelter for wildlife


Snow may be useful and beautiful, but it may also do consider able damage. Blizzards some times kill livestock and even people, and they also make travel difficult and dangerous. During the early history of Kansas, when there were few buildings and fences, the chief danger in blizzards was that a person might get lost in the blinding snow. Even now, with fenced highways and motorized snow plows, there is still danger of an automobile being stalled in drifted snow so that the passengers may have difficulty reaching shelter. Although blizzards occur throughout Kansas, they are more severe in the western part of the state, because of the combination of high winds and dry powdery snow. Old-timers may talk about the severity of the blizzards of 1886, 1912, and 1931, but almost all Kansans remember the blizzard of 1955.

But all damage is not restricted to that done by blizzards. The accompanying illustration, reprinted from the December 1954, issue of The Kansas School Naturalist, shows how even an ordinary cover of snow over the ice covering a pond may become harmful to fish and other animals living in the pond.

Ordinary snowfalls, such as occur in Kansas, may block roads, streets, and railroads, causing late arrivals of trains, delays in mail and shipping, and upset schedules of all sorts. The snow, particularly if it is wet, or if it freezes on as it falls, may break down trees and branches, telephone wires and poles, and sometimes even roofs of buildings.

As you no doubt have noticed, drifting s now accumulates wherever there is some obstruction to slow down the wind. Such an obstruction may be a box, building, tree, brush, or snow fence. 'Where no such obstructions exist, the surface is exposed to the wind and snow blows away. Thus a field of smooth bare soil will not accumulate any snow, while a field covered with stubble will. Even a field or garden of bare soil may hold considerable snow if it is surrounded by a hedge or weedy fence.

Sometimes when snow drifts across a bare plowed field, some of the topsoil is blown along with the snow and mixed with it. This "black snow" may be piled up in drifts in roadside ditches and behind hedges and snow fences. Sometimes a "black blizzard" may result in the movement of more topsoil than snow. Next time you are driving out in the country, see where the snow fences are located to keep snow from drifting across highways and railroads. Then, next time there is enough snow and wind to cause large drifts, you can see whether the fences were located in the right places to do the job-for which they were intended.


One of the most obvious answers is that you can make snowballs or snowmen, but this is not a complete answer. Sometimes snow is dry and dusty and will not pack; other times the snow packs easily so that you can make a snow man or other snow sculpture. What is the difference between the dry dusty snow and the good packing snow?

Sometimes snow is hard and crusty so you can build an igloo or snow house. Good building snow is not as common in Kansas as in the northern states, but it does occur once in a while. A picture of a Kansas snow house is shown on page 15.

You can make tracks in snow. Try walking forward several steps, then turning around and walking backward several steps. Is there any difference between the tracks made while you were walking forward and those made while you were walking backward?

You can be a detective and study animal tracks in snow. You can tell from the tracks how big the animal was, whether it was two- or four-footed, and in what direction it was going. The picture of tracks, on page 9, is reprinted from the December 1954 issue of The Kansas School Naturalist.

You can do a lot of experiments with snow. For example you can determine at what temperature it melts, how much water a certain amount of snow makes when it is melted, how snow drifts are formed, and where they are formed. On a day when snow is drifting you may set a box in the open yard, and watch a drift form. Does it form on the side of the box away from or toward the wind? Note how the particles of dry snow blow from the windward side off the leeward side of the drift, thus causing the drift to move along in the direction the wind is blowing. After a drift has formed you can take away the box and watch the drift disappear.


With a stick make a deep groove in the surface of the snow. How is this groove filled in? Make one groove in the direction of the wind, and another at right angles to it. What difference does this make in the way in which the groove is filled up?

If you have a camera and like to take outdoor pictures try the hobby of snow pictures. Most snow pictures taken in winter are flat because of the lack of shadows. This is because most people take pictures with the sun at their backs. To get pictures with good contrast the camera must be at right angles or nearly so to the direction of the sunlight. Some of the most interesting of winter pictures are those of weed tops sticking out above the snow. Other possibilities are snow on trees, on roofs, and in drifts along fences and buildings. Some suggestions are shown on page 15.

To see the effect of other materials on the rate of melting of snow lay such things as a sheet of white paper, a sheet of black paper, a piece of tinfoil, a pane of glass, a piece of tin, or a shingle (you can think of many others) on the surface of clean snow. Do this on a clear sunny day and lay the objects in full sun. After an hour and at intervals through the day, see which of the objects has any effect on the melting rate. Black paper absorbs more heat from the sunlight than does white paper; how does this affect the melting of snow under the paper?

To find out how much water a certain amount of snow provides, fill a suitable container, such as a pound coffee can, with loose snow. Bring the snow indoors and allow it to melt. You can calculate the amount of snow and the amount of water, in cubic inches, fluid ounces, or other suitable units, or you can simply measure the depth of the water in the same can in which . you collected the snow. Or you may vary the problem by weighing a measured amount, such as a gallon, of snow and then weighing a gallon of water, and comparing the weights. All sorts of arithmetic problems can be set up, using the differences between snow and water.

You can bring in a can of snow and allow it to melt until you have a slushy mixture of snow and water. What is the temperature of this mixture? Now add some table salt to the mixture and stir thoroughly. What is the temperature of the mixture containing the salt? How does this experiment apply to ice cream freezing?


As you know, the atmosphere contains a considerable amount of water vapor. The temperature at which this vapor condenses is called the dew point. When the temperature of the air is lowered to the dew pOint a cloud or fog is formed. Cloud and fog differ only in their location. A fog is a low altitude cloud, so low that it is at or near the ground. A cloud is a fog that is hundreds or thousands of feet up in the atmosphere. Fogs or clouds may be followed by dew, frost, snow, rain, or hail. When clouds are formed at temperatures below the freezing point of water, moisture in the ail: condenses directly into crystals; the condensed moisture then falls as snow, unless the air close to the earth is so warm that the snowflakes melt as they fall.

Snow crystals, freezing freely in the air, show an infinite variety of deSigns. It is commonly remarked that no two snow crystals are exactly alike. However, as may be seen in the accompanying diagram there is a regular Six-rayed pattern, with the rays at angles of 60' to each other. The atmospheric conditions under which snow crystals form influence the shapes and sizes of the crystals. In snow crystals which are formed at higher altitudes, so that they are in cooler regions for a longer time, the spaces between the rays are built up with ice so that the crystals present a more solid appearance. Crystals formed at lower altitudes, which fall to the earth in a shorter time have a more open pattern. Both types are shown on the opposite page. " In Kansas one ordinarily finds more of the open low altitude crystals, such as those shown on the lower half of the page.

You may examine a number of snow crystals under a microscope or magnifying lens, and make sketches of them. Be sure to cool the microscope stage or glass plate on which you place the snow crystals, or the snow will melt before you have time to examine it carefully.

When snow crystals fall to earth through a layer of warm air they may melt somewhat, and these moist crystals may stick together in large numbers. Such masses of snow crystals are called snowflakes; a single snowflake may consist of hundreds or even thousands of snow crystals.

While we do not think of them as snow or snowflakes, we have various other illustrations of the formation of similar crystals. For example, frost collects when moisture from the air gets into the deep freeze or refrigerator in the kitchen. We are all familiar with the pictures Jack Frost paints on windows. For his painting material he uses the moisture in the air. This moisture is condensed into crystals on the window glass which is at a temperature below freeZing. Sometimes moist air blows across ice covered ponds in such a way as to deposit crystals on the ice surface, as shown above.

The sketches of snowflakes in the accompanying illustration were redrawn from The Cornell Rural School Leaflet, Vol. 41, No.3, entitled "Snow, Frost and Ice."

The picture of frost crystals on ice were taken by H. A. Stephens, Educational Representative of The Kansas Forestry, Fish and Game Commission. The drawings are by Robert F. Clarke, graduate student in biology.

SNOW TIME is bird feeding time; the following letter appeared in a recent issue of The Kansas City Star:

Would you be willing to pay a troupe of actors about 25 cents a week for staging some superb performances outside your own kitchen window every day in the week throughout the forthcoming winter months?

That's all that it will cost, for these entertainers come fully equipped with their own beautiful, colorful costumes and a huge repertoire of lovely songs that would cause even the great opera singers to be jealous. The 25 cents goes toward providing food.

I am referring to our little feathered performers, the perfectly groomed titmice, the bluejays with their clear, ringing, bell-like notes, the dignified redbirds, and even the small misbehaving sparrows, and the black helmeted chickadees.

The stage is easily set in this outdoor theater by providing feeding stations outside the windows or by moving the discarded Christmas tree to the back yard after the festivities are over. By tying little mesh bags of suet to the smaller branches of the tree, it will be less likely that the neighborhood squirrels will rob the birds of their food.

The white-breasted nuthatch will perform acrobatic stunts right before your window. One would guess he Came straight from the circus.

The friendliest and liveliest of the visiting opera troupe will be the chickadee. He has a most engaging manner, and will hop up to the windowsill and announce his name. His song is very simple but very pleasing.

It has been said that we should read a bit of poetry, sing a song, or look at a picture every day. Well, our feathered friends provide us with all three.

Lee's Summit, Mo.


1. Christmas trees decorated by Nature.


2. A Kansas igloo; the snow blocks were about 4 inches thick.


3. Christmas trees decorated by Nature.


4. Note the burrowing places to the left and the tire chain tracks to the right.


5. Snowdrifts can be elaborate examples of natural sculpture.


6. Weeds above the snow provide food for birds.


7. Wet snow that stuck where it fell.


8. The brush and tree covered hillside held snow where it fell.



A roof may be compared to a landscape, with hills, slopes, valleys, ridges, cliffs, and other features which affect the distribution of snow. Drifts may form back of chimneys, dormers and other roof projections. The chimneys may give off heat, which causes nearby snow to melt even on a very cold day.

In some cases the roof covers a heated building, such as a house, and is not very well insulated. Then the part of the roof that extends past the walls will be colder than the rest, so snow may melt faster on the main roof than it does on the parts that extend.

If the ridge of the roof extends east and west, the roof has a north slope and a south slope. Does the low winter sun warm the two slopes equally?

Icicles form along the edges where water drips from the roof. They form sooner and usually become larger along the south edge than along the north. They cannot form at all until enough snow melts (either by the sun's heat or by heat from inside the building) to result in dripping water. They cannot form at all unless the air temperature is below freezing. If icicles are produced in a high wind they may hang at an angle instead of straight down. The largest icicles of all are usually formed at the end of a valley where two roof slopes come together.


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