TRR photos by Scott Rando

This is hoarfrost forming from moist air just above the water level of a small stream during a cold winter morning. A closer look shows some smaller tendrils growing off the main stems of ice; these form at exactly a 60-degree angle, or one sixth of what you see in a snow flake. This is an example of the crystalline molecular structure of water at work.

The ice of late winter

The season of winter has slightly less than two months to go before it officially ends; as to what winter does from now on weather-wise, that’s anyone’s guess. We’ve had some mild days in the 50s and also some sub-zero days and a moderate amount of frozen precipitation so far. Having to go somewhere during a snow or ice storm is no fun for most people; the roads and walking paths can be slick, and this has caused a fair number of fender-benders or slips and falls.

Yet, the same ice that causes us a lot of angst over the winter can also be a thing of beauty in the right circumstances. A frozen waterfall, or long tendrils of hoarfrost on tree branches during a cold foggy morning, are always fun to see. Most of us enjoy some sort of winter activity, whether it be skiing, ice fishing, sledding with the kids, or simply taking a walk in the snow so see what tracks various animals have left behind.

When the temperature of water falls below its freezing point, the molecular structure forms a hexagonal crystal structure and changes from a liquid to a solid. The evidence of this structure can be seen when looking at a single snow flake or certain frost patterns on windows or other objects. The same properties that make frozen water a nuisance when navigating on it or trying to clear it from your driveway can also make it a wonder of nature when observed closely. For those of us who cannot wait for spring’s arrival, take heart: we are soon to turn the corner. And this quote from John Steinbeck, famed author of “The Grapes of Wrath” offers some food for thought: “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”


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