DNR question of the week: The sound of snow


(12/21/2003)

Q: Why does snow make different sounds at different temperatures when it is walked on?

A: The quality and amount of snow as well as air temperature all influence if snow will be noisy or quiet underfoot. Snow has air trapped between each flake, and when stepped on, those air spaces absorb sound. Dry, fluffy, new snow has more air trapped between each flake resulting in quiet footsteps. Wet, hardened, old snow has less air trapped between each flake, which means that less sound is absorbed resulting in noisy or squeaky snow. The amount of snow effects sound, too - the more it snows, the more air gets trapped, and thus, the quieter the snow is. However, snow only makes sound when the thermometer dips below 14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 10 degrees Celsius). Temperatures above 14 degrees allow the snow to melt just enough to slip silently under your boots as you walk. So your boots can be a good indicator of just how cold it is outside in the winter.

- Retta James-Gasser, Gooseberry Falls State Park naturalist

 

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