Living in Montana, and it being November, I have been able to reacquaint myself in some detail with snow and snowfall. Meteorologically, there is nothing simple about snow, and from the psychological perspective, it is even less simple. Snow is not just frozen water that falls from the sky. Snow is something much more. There are many stages of snowfall, thusly:
- Foreshadowing: Sometime, in the weeks leading up to the first true snowfall, there will be signs of snow to come. Perhaps a light, cool rain where the drops are so small and cold that they seem to be snow. Perhaps there is a light dusting of snow that melts as soon as the sun comes up. And there will probably be, in hilly places, snow on the tops of the hills and mountains that gently works its way down.
- The Outset: After some days or weeks of the snow seeming to be ready to come, one day the storm clouds will be dense and dark, and will finally begin to release snow. Of course, they usually start by raining, rain which gets colder until it turns into flakes. The flakes hit the ground, at first melting on contact. Then they start to stick to some surfaces. And then they start to stick to all surfaces. Before long, there is a covering, and the covering turns into
- The Blanketing: While snow will probably continue to fall, at a certain point, the ground is covered. Blanketed. There is a smooth perfection over everything, with a fine coating of snow covering everything, even thin ledges and near-vertical surfaces. An odd light suffuses everything, reflecting off of the snow on the ground and the snow that continues to fall. Sounds seem to be muffled, because the snow absorbs sound or because the constant hum of automobiles is silenced. This is also the most dangerous and inconvenient time for those who can't just sit inside sipping hot chocolate. Even in places that are accustomed to snow and where snowplows and snow tires are normal, the first few hours after a snowfall are still hazardous, as the roads still need to be plowed. Everything feels wild and different. But at some point, this passes on to
- The Melting, Part I: Even in places where the temperature stays below freezing, some melting will occur. Dark objects, or metal objects will heat up in the sun and melt the snow on or around them. The snow slides off of sloped surfaces. trees shake loose the snow on their branches. The roads are plowed, and tracks are made across the snow. During this phase, people must undertake the psychosexually meaningful act of trampling and marring the virgin snow. They must convert the eerie pristinity of the transformed, blanketed world into the utilitarian world they live in. So they must trample on the snow, both because a) its fun and b) you need to leave the house sometime.
- The Melting, Part II: The Melting continues, but whereas before there was a cover of snow with patches of melting, soon there will be bare ground with some snow mixed in. The snow will remain clear and level, but only on the patches where no one needs to walk. This can last for some time, and eventually the large patches of snow become just something to tug at the corner of your eye. But even these finally give away, through...
- The Last Remnant. Through some configurations of shade and topography, snow will stay on the ground even as the weather grows warm and balmy. There are good reasons for this, some having to do with the latent energy that it takes to melt snow. Some has to do with the fact that snow can tend to drift into piles, or be pushed into piles by human intervention. And some just has to do with the fact that snow seems more likely to obey Xeno's Paradox rather than the laws of Thermodynamics. In any case, long after the memory of the blanketed world have passed, some little patch of snow is hanging on the ground, getting smaller and smaller, and raising an occasional glance of surprise when you encounter that it is still there. But even that passes away, and soon the snowfall is truly gone.
This then is a simple look at the stages of snowfall, which of course have many caveats to them. For one thing, during one of the later stages, more snow can fall, resetting the cycle. For another thing, this is written from the viewpoint of what snowfall is like for someone in a mid-latitude temperate or continental climate. If you live in Algeria or The Yukon Territory, the experience of snowfall is obviously going to be much different. However, this is the basic sketch of my biography of a bout of snow.