Saturday, January 23, 2021
Home News Notes from the sticks: The snowflake’s story

Notes from the sticks: The snowflake’s story

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WE still haven’t had any frost or snow. In fact we rarely get snow at all – not like in the south London suburbs where we regularly had to dig the car out. We are between Pendle Hill to the east and the fells of the Trough of Bowland to the west, and presumably these shelter us.

They say that no two snowflakes are identical, which is obviously impossible to prove, but I don’t think anyone has ever claimed to find a pair. Isn’t that amazing? All those billions and billions of snowflakes, all with six sides or points, and all different.

They are formed in the high atmosphere when water vapour freezes around particles of dust or salt. The crystals grow as they drift down, attracting additional molecules of frozen water. Eventually they congregate into snowflakes, each of which may contain more than a thousand individual crystals.

The hexagonal shape is to do with the molecular structure of water, and the design is governed by the temperature at which a crystal forms and the humidity of the air. If it is minus 15 deg C the crystals are plate-like while at minus 5C they have long needles. As the temperature changes during the descent, so the shape changes and grows.

There are many classifications of snowflake shape. This one by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) lists 35. There is masses of information on this site.

I am not sure if anyone has captured snowflake formation in the wild, as it were, but here is a video of one developing in the laboratory.

This film comes from the New Scientist. They call it slow motion, but I would say it is speeded up.

I looked up the legend that the Inuit people have 50 different words for snow. This developed from the work of anthropologist Franz Boas with the Inuit people of Baffin Island, Canada, in the late 1800s. Later experts dismissed the idea as ‘the great Eskimo vocabulary hoax’. But apparently more recent work has found that because of the structure of the group of Inuit languages there are not just 50 but many more words for snow.

While roaming around YouTube I found this great time-lapse video of snowfall in the US.

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Last week pub manager Grace Shelley described in TCW her difficulties caused by the government’s ever-changing, ever-more restrictive Covid policies relating to the hospitality industry. We can see this first-hand. Opposite our house is an independent restaurant run by a delightful couple with four children under ten. Over the six or so years we have been here we have watched as they have worked tirelessly to build up a successful business, expanding into bed and breakfast accommodation and achieving a high reputation, and employing quite a decent number of staff. Although there are very few ‘cases’ in our area (55 deaths out of 60,000 population since the start of all this, though no information on their age etc) we have been shunted into Tier 3 like the rest of Lancashire. On Thursday our friends were on pins waiting for the theatrical announcement of the latest tiers and restrictions. When it came, meaning that they could not open over Christmas, they were in despair. It is heartbreaking to see. They cannot go on like this – they are doing takeaways and deliveries, and the village is supporting them, but they won’t be able to last indefinitely. Suppose it comes to the point that they have to sell up? Who would want to buy a business that can’t operate?

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Notes from the sticks is going into hibernation for a short while. I hope to be back in the New Year.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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