How fast do snowflakes fall? perform they come under at 50 miles per hour? Or 20? Or possibly as sluggish as 10 mph? might a human being run quicker than a snowflake falls?

This question came right into my head last December as I looked the end at very early season snowstorm native my examine window. It appeared that the flakes were fluttering down fairly slowly, virtually in sluggish motion. However this was a spatu impression, and could even be an optical illusion. The inquiry really essential to be answered in a scientific way. I sighed wistfully. It would probably take a million-dollar NSF grant to assemble every the fancy electronics necessary to measure snowflakes in flight, right?


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Science experiments room fun. Photograph by Jim Payne.

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But I could not placed the inquiry out of my mind. End the taking place weeks, every time ns saw one more snowflake—and, together you recall, there were plenty of to see!—I preserved wondering about it: How quick were castle going? Then, quite by accident, i bumped right into a technique of approaching response to my question.

I had taken some pictures outdoors, and also looking at the shots later, ns noticed part blurry white streaks. These, of course, were snowflakes, relocating too rapid to it is in frozen at the slow shutter speed I was utilizing on the dim day. It emerged to me the these streaks did give a clue around the speed of the snowflakes that made them.

The logic is simple: the snowflake starts make the streak when the camera shutter opens, and also ends the streak when the shutter closes. Therefore if friend know how long the shutter to be open, and the actual length of the streak, climate you have the right to calculate the snowflake’s speed.

To put this idea right into practice, I recorded a square that black paper to a yardstick and also propped the on a snow bank. When the flakes started coming down, ns ran out with my camera and took too many of pictures of the black color square.

Sure enough, when I download the pictures to my computer, white streaks of snowflakes showed up versus the black background (see photo). It to be a basic matter, making use of dividers, to gap the size of a streak top top the screen, and then to deliver that space to the yardstick to create how lengthy the streak was.

For example, in the photo, the streak determined with the arrow is 0.4575 customs long, together measured versus the yardstick in the picture. Due to the fact that the shutter speed was 1/80th the a second, this method the snowflake moved 0.4574 inches in 1/80th of a second. With a little bit the arithmetic we can calculate that this snowflake was relocating at a rate of 36.6 inches a second, or 2.08 miles every hour.

Of course, there room imperfections in this method. Because that one thing, it assumes the the snowflake is fall close come the paper target. If that is far from the paper—and closer to the camera—then this an approach will create an exaggerated calculation of the true speed. For example, the broader, fuzzy streak above the arrow in the photo is probably a flake closer come the camera (and for this reason out of focus). So its higher length go not, in fact, reflect a higher speed.

Another thing to watch out for is wind. Obviously, wind can blow flakes around, and we don’t want to counting the wind rate in ours estimates. I’ve supplied the assumption that if the flake is relocating straight down, or almost so (as in the photo), climate there is very little wind effect. Flakes moving in a an ext sideways direction are assumed come be affected by the wind and are disregarded.

Over a duration of several days, ns took many pictures the the target as soon as snowflakes were falling, at different shutter speeds, consisting of 1/30th, 1/40th and 1/80th that a second. In all, I obtained 54 useable dimensions of snowflake streaks. The calculated speed of this flakes ranged native 1.1 mph to 2.6 mph. This seems a rather large range, but it is plausible the flakes of various sizes and different densities might fall in ~ quite various speeds. The average speed of these 54 different flakes was 2.0 miles every hour, and also I suggest we take that as the main answer if we are ever uncover ourselves on a quiz show and are asked, How fast do snowflakes fall?

Can girlfriend outrun a snowflake? obviously yes. In fact, you can out-walk them, uneven you’re really dilly-dallying. A typical walking speed on level pavement is about 3.0 miles per hour, so you have the right to make it come City coast and back before the flake that started in a mile-high cloud hits the ground.


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