Weather and Art: Snowflakes

We have all heard the phrase, “no two snowflakes are alike.” This popular adage originated in the late nineteenth century and is widely credited to Wilson Bentley, a farmer from Jericho, Vermont with a deep curiosity about water’s various forms. He was also the first person to photograph individual snowflakes.

Bentley collected fresh falling snowflakes on a blackboard and documented them for posterity with a technique known as photomicrography. This is a photographic process that involves attaching a camera to a microscope. Working in the late 1880s and early 1900s – the days before film – Bentley’s images were captured on emulsion covered glass plates. His first icy masterpiece dates to 1885.

During the course of his lifetime, Bentley photographed more than 5000 individual snowflakes and did not find any two to be exactly alike. In 1931, he published a book of his work entitled, “Snow Crystals.” Extensive collections of his images can be seen at the Jericho Historical Society in Vermont and the Buffalo Museum of Science in upstate New York.

Scientists today continue to study how snow crystals grow.

Photo of an individual snowflake circa Winter 1901-02 by Wilson Bentley.                   Credit: Wilson Bentley/Smithsonian Institution Archives

Photo of an individual snowflake circa Winter 1901-02 by Wilson Bentley.                   Credit: Wilson Bentley/Smithsonian Institution Archives

NYC Monthly Summary: February 2015

February was frigid in New York City this year! With an average monthly temperature of 23.9°F, it was the city’s 3rd coldest February on record.

We experienced several arctic outbreaks that caused fountains to freeze and ice to form on both the Hudson and East Rivers. Overall, we had 15 out of 28 days where our high temperature did not get above freezing. We also had 7 days where our low temperature dropped into the single digits, including February 20th when the mercury plummeted to 2°F in Central Park, marking a new record low for the date. Our normal high for the month is 42°F and our normal low is 29°F.

These relentlessly cold conditions were produced by an almost continuous deep dip in the jet stream that allowed arctic air to dive south into our region. Some scientists suggest there may be a connection between these extended periods of extreme cold and climate change. They say as the Arctic warms, the jet stream slows down creating a wavier configuration that allows weather systems to stay in place longer.

In terms of precipitation, February is usually a snowy month in the Big Apple and this year was no exception. The city had 13.6 inches accumulate in Central Park, which is 4.4 inches above average. The month did not bring us a single blockbuster snow event, but rather a string of small storms. Rainfall, on the other hand, was lacking.  The city only received 2.04 inches, which is 1.05 inches below normal for the month.

Credit: The Weather Gamut

Credit: The Weather Gamut