Two Faces of Water

December 19th, 2009

Around midnight, a gentle snow began to fall. It continues to come down, but the air temperature is still hovering right at the freezing point. Throughout the night I’d wake up and peek out the window to see snow falling onto wet streets – it was just a bit too warm for the snow crystals to not melt when they hit the pavement.

Come morning, the roads were slushy and slick, but the temperature remained stubbornly warm.

You never know till you try, so I caught a few falling flakes to see if I could get their photos. They began to melt the moment they landed on the glass plate, and by the time they were positioned beneath the camera lens, they were well-nigh gone.

One shot of one departing crystal, just before it became a drop of water (click on the picture for a larger image):

Here are two faces of water - crystal and liquid forms - together in the same place, briefly. These are not the only two forms of water, of course, but it's interesting to see them juxtaposed like this.

- Mark

First Snow Crystal Photo of 2009/10

December 19th, 2009

Last week’s storm brought several inches of hard driving, wet snow to Kalamazoo. But after the blizzard passed temperatures grew more mild, and soon patches of grass began to emerge from the melting snow cover.

A slight dusting of lake effect snow a couple of days ago is all we’ve seen of the white stuff since then. I spent a few disappointing hours out in the light snow, catching only highly irregular crystals and the broken arms of dendrites.

Here’s the one and only whole crystal I managed to photograph – it’s a start!

Snow Crystal Photo
- Mark

Colors of Ice

December 18th, 2009

The farmer's bathtub finally froze over. The surface had an interesting freezing pattern, but I've photographed similar ones many times before. So I picked up a rock, broke the surface, put a chunk between two crossed polaroid sheets and shot a picture.

The colors arise from the birefringent nature of ice, which means that light can pass through crossed polarizers if ice lies in between. But only some colors can make it through both polarizers.

Read more »

First Frost

December 15th, 2009

Here in this neighborhood of Japan, we finally had our first good frost day. By frost, I mean any ice that forms from vapor that condenses (wet or dry) onto a surface. We rarely get snow, typically just one or two short-lived, wet snowfalls over winter, but we often get frost.  Frost might be common here because the temperature just dips a little below freezing (0 degrees Celcius), winter skies are often clear, and the humidity is high. For example, in my yard, about seven feet above ground (where I have a safe place for my temperature/humidity meter), the relative humidity last night stayed between 80 and 87% and the air temperature got down to 1.6 Celcius. But the temperature on surfaces exposed to the sky got colder. For example, on some metal plates I put in our carport, the temperature reached -6.0 Celcius. Roofs of cars parked in a more exposed area probably got even colder. The pictures below show frost from two black car roofs.

These pictures show a mixture of two types of frost: windowpane, or film, frost, which is often clear and curvy, and hoar frost, which is white and straight. Film frost grows along the surface; hoar grows out of the surface. For the snow crystal fan who lives in a place with little snow, hoar frost is the next best thing. I say this because hoar grows just like snow - sometimes like a branch of a thin star and sometimes like a column. Film frost is ice that grows in a thin film of liquid water that condensed like dew on the surface. For reasons that remain mysterious, film frost usually curves. After the liquid in the film crystallizes, hoar crystals sprout off the ice, growing upward, away from the surface. In the top image, hoar has just started, but enough has grown to make the curved ice white, in good contrast with the black surface below. In the bottom image, if you look closely, you can see the stubble of hoar whiskers growing as tiny ice columns off the surface (at this magnification, it is hard to determine if the hoar consists of columns or thin-star branches).

The thing that is totally bizzare about film frost is that the ice not only curves, but each curve consists of a crystal structure that twists. Hoar and snow do not twist. To picture what I mean by twist, imagine holding a huge snow star and twisting each branch in such a way that the crystal resembles a six-blade propeller. Real snow doesn't twist, but film frost does. Because the hoar grows off the twisting ice, the hoar columns tilt differently in different regions. You can see this if you look closely at the bottom image.


Outstanding Science Trade Book

December 13th, 2009

Great news!

The Story of Snow has been named an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12 by the National Science Teacher's Association and Children's Book Council!

- Mark

Front page News

December 11th, 2009

The Kalamazoo Gazette ran a front page article about The Story of Snow on Wednesday, December 9.

Click here to check it out!

The weather was quite accomodating as a blizzard moved into west Michigan around the same time.

- Mark

100 Titles for Reading and Sharing

December 7th, 2009

A little while ago the New York Public Library came out with their recommended list of children's books called 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing. The Story of Snow is included!

Here's a nice stellar dentrite from last December - almost a year ago. This winter is turning out to be pretty mild so far, here in Michigan at least...

- Mark

18 New Holiday Books For Kids from

December 2nd, 2009

If you are interested in kids' books for the holidays, check out the 18 New Holiday Books For Kids photo gallery on the website of the Chicago Tribune - which is

I particularly like #2 in the lineup - but there are a lot of interesting titles here!

Click Here to go there!

- Mark

Story Of Snow Teacher's Guide

December 1st, 2009

The good folks at Chronicle Books have put together a teacher's guide for The Story of Snow. In my storied past, I spent a few years working as an Assistant Superintendent in an urban school district. I was the HR Director and did not get directly involved in instruction, but I did develop a great appreciation for the rigorous life of a Teacher.

So if you are a teacher and plan to use The Story of Snow in your classroom - grab the teacher's guide. Every resource helps!

To download the guide - click this link:


It is a 1.7 MB PDF file.

And thanks to Chronicle Books for putting this together!

Image of the cover of The Story of SNow Teacher's Guide
- Mark

Booksigning December 12 at the Kalamazoo Nature Center

November 28th, 2009

The Kalamazoo Nature Center's Buy Local Art and Gift Fair is coming up in just 2 weeks. I'll be on hand to sign books and talk about snow crystyal photography from 11 a.m. till 1 p.m. The Art Fair runs from 10 to 4, and in the afternon the results of the Photoblitz contest will be unveiled. Holidays At The Homestead will also be in full swing, with live Celtic Music, horse drawn carriage rides, and other holiday festivities from the past at the historic DeLano Homestead. For more about the event, visit

And don't forget the December 4 art hop at Nature Connection in downtown Kalamazoo!

- Mark