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Snow Day

"Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding cake."

~ Winter-Time, Robert Louis Stevenson, 1885

For many in the northern hemisphere, January is the snowiest month of the year, though depending on region, the snowiest month can take place as early as October! Regardless, during a clear day, beautiful snow shadows can be seen in fresh snow which are perceived as beautiful shades of blue! The parts of the snow that are not in shadows are lit by the sun and the sky together, but as the sunlight is usually much much brighter than light from the blue sky, these parts are mainly of the colour of sunlight. The parts of snow in the shadows, however, are lit only by the blue sky, hence the blue/bluish shadows. Painter Claude Monet, was one of the first to use colored shadows in his painting to illustrate these blueish shadow. Monet and the Impressionists used these colored shadows to represent the actual, changing conditions of light and shadow as seen in nature, challenging the academic convention of painting shadows black. ❄️

Jan 20

In addition to the beautiful shadows of snow cast by light, there are other types of "shadows" which occur in nature having to do with snow melt patterns:


Linear snow "shadows" are straight lines of snow left on the ground as a result of the shaded and cooler areas cast by tree strucks which last longer than the more brightly lit areas between in which the snow melts due to the warmer ground temperature.


Circular snow "shadows" which appear around the perimeter of a tree trunk can be a result of different soils or mulch which warm at a different temperature than the surrounding areas which are frosted through snow which falls through the bare brances of a tree.


Reverse snow "shadows" are formed when snow appears around a tree or shrub as a white ring with bare soil on either side.  This can occur on a warm day which turns cold,  causing the ground to cool quickly and allow the falling snow to accumulated there, while the other areas retain the heat and melt the light snow.


"Snow melt" shadows appearing after a winter warm period, and especially in spring, when the snowpack appears to recede from tree trunks.  In this case, a light-colored surface (such as snow) reflects the sun’s energy away, while a dark surface (such as a tree trunk) tends to absorb the sun’s energy. The result is that the tree trunk warms up, and the heat radiated from the trunk melts the nearby snow. Similar shadows may be found around boulders protruding from the snowpack.


There are even more phenomenon regarding the growth of shrubs and trees from vestigial snow packs which fall unevenly causing different growth patterns and flowerings!


For a tour of famous paintings of snow and shadows, click the Snow and Shadows photograph!