Friday, January 18, 2013

Surface Hoar: I had NO idea....

(This long post includes a little bit of education at the beginning which later led to a big WOW experience for me...)

Frost, or hoarfrost...basically they are the same thing that one finds glittering on surfaces on cold winter mornings.
I've been learning about the difference between snow and frost lately, HERE is the link to the site I am using:

 Frost is to dew as snowflakes are to raindrops.

 When water vapor condenses into liquid water, you get raindrops and dew.

 When water vapor condenses directly into ice, then you get snowflakes and frost.

(big Ah HA! moment for me.)

Snowflakes are not frozen raindrops, and likewise frost is not frozen dew.

When frost forms as minute ice crystals covering the ground, we just call it all frost. 

 But sometimes the frost grains grow larger and are called hoarfrost crystals.

 Good hoarfrost is not that uncommon if you watch for it. 

 Hoarfrost grows whenever it's cold outside and there is a ample source of water vapor nearby.

A closer inspection of the frost reveals the fern like shape of the frost crystals.
The frost may be crystals the size of sugar sprinkles or may grow to a size of a fingertip.
These were just a tiny bit bigger than the size of the colored sugar sprinkles that one usually use to decorate cut out cookies.
If one explores open field, one can find the rattling remains of summer flowers dusted with frost in the early morning.

The temperature may not rise much, but the slightest touch of warm sunlight melts the delicate frost cystals away.
Now I have always loved the sparkling snow "diamonds" that glitter so brightly in the sunlight.
Recently I learned that most of those diamonds are not actually snow.
They actually are something called surface hoar that has built atop of fallen snow.

The most common form of hoarfrost is called surface hoar.
 This consists of ice crystals that form on top of snow banks, usually overnight. 
 The sparkles you see coming from a field of snow are often reflections off the facets of surface hoar crystals.
Surface hoar typically forms when a snowbank warms up during the day and is then cooled again overnight. 

 The night air cools the surface of the snowbank more than the inside, so that water can evaporate from inside the snowbank and recrystalize on the surface. 
 By morning the snowbank is covered with a layer of faceted ice crystals, and they can be quite large. 
(Around here they typically are the size of  uncooked old fashioned oatmeal flakes.)

 These usually melt again once the sun comes up, so the best time to find surface hoar is early in the morning.

Lest you think I live in a world of unblemished winter beauty...
The photo above were all taken alongside this roadway.
(And humbling enough, while I was crouched down on my knees and elbows to take one picture, a car stopped and the driver asked me if I was OK.  I do appreciate that kind of driver and gave him my thanks for checking!)

Pristine winter beauty:
Not so everywhere...or at least not so close to the roadways.

So here is a close up of surface hoar atop old snow.

I have more disappointing reality for you, dear reader.
In the winter months, Salt Lake City's valley suffers from something that is called an inversion.
Basically it is smog...and the smog is trapped in the valley by the heavy weight of still cold air.

It can get so bad that the mountain across the valley floor disappear behind an off colored haze.
Usually one can see another entire mountain range across the valley.
The inversions presents breathing issues for the frail, and it can be so bad that we are asked not to drive if possible, and if one is especially unable to cope with the air quality, leaving the area in the winter months is advised.
If it is possible, it is also a good idea to live up above the valley floor, above the inversion layer.
We thankfully do live just above the problem.
But even so...somedays we feel like going even higher up to get away from the view of the inversion too.
So Thursday afternoon I asked Bernie if he felt like taking a little drive out to the Heber Valley, over the mountains and to the Provo river to see what it looks like right now.
He readily agreed after being house bound since Christmas.
Fly rod and camera bag were loaded into the car in nothing flat and off we went.
Now secretly I was curious about one line in the guide about frost that I had read:

One of the best places to find hoarfrost is on exposed plants near unfrozen lakes and streams.

As soon as we parked near the river, I pulled on my trusty powder suit and snowboots and headed off to the riverside.


Moments later I was in surface hoar and hoar frost heaven!
The edge of the river was frozen and on the frozen surface there were incredible examples of hoarfrost the size of my finger tip, just waiting for me to see, enjoy and photograph.

Awesome is it not?

Just created for God's pleasure and my pleasure, surely, as I seriously doubt that anyone other than myself (and now you, my dear reader) was likely to see it.

I suppose God knew you would see it too...

See what I mean about them being the size of my finger tip?
The fluffy looking stuff is the hoarfrost, the bubbly looking shiny stuff is frozen river water.

I was SO excited.
He...was done fishing after about thirty minutes.
Me...well, I would have stayed until dark.
Don't you love this heart shaped bit of lacey hoarfrost?

It really is a pity Bernie didn't have his camera at the ready to photography me kneeling on the ice with my camera and face just inches away from the hoar frost.
You would have laughed to see how silly I looked.

(I've been doing some catch up watching of the Downton Abbey series; the lacy hoarfrost structure reminded me of the all the lace trim that was used in the series costumes.)

I still don't scientifically understand how hoarfrost forms such intricate designs.
I think I have a new spin on a well known Bible verse though:

Consider the hoarfrost of the riverside; they toil not, neither do they spin.
Yet King Solomon in all his glory (and all the women on Downton Abbey) are not arrayed like one of these.

Surface hoar atop snow, in oatmeal sized flakes.

You can see where I was...the scuffed up edge near the flowing water on the right just before the snow.
I am about fifteen feet away from our car which is parked behind me.
Gosh I wish I could have had all my photo taking buddies along with me.
I will say this: If you do have a stream or a pond nearby on a cold morning, do go take a look around to see what you might find in terms of hoarfrost.
It might be simply amazing for you.
Give it a try.

The road out from the river.

We stopped at an amazing Mexican restaurant for dinner; it was just a couple of miles from the river; we had never been there before.
They had a salsa bar to die for.
Mango salsa, avocado salsa...I could have just slurped down salsa all night.
Hoarfrost may have fed my soul, but the Mexicans took care of feeding my body just perfectly!


Vee said...

Wowzer again! And I thought I had a great photo opportunity this morning. It doesn't compare to this. I do have access to early morning open water on a cold day. Don't know if I can bring myself to getting down there, though. =D

Thank you for all the added information, too. It is very interesting and I'll remember that bit about the diamonds on the snow.

ellen b. said...

Oh my goodness. I'm so happy to let you go out in the cold and get down and show us all this beauty from the lens of your camera. Amazing...

Lovella ♥ said...

Wowsers is right! Such beauty and it is all a gift.
We are having an inversion ourselves here. It has been foggy here all day and that is just annoying since Vancouver broke through with sunshine...which we have had so little of.
I love Hoar Frost. It doesn't happen here often but when it is a thing of beauty.

Rosella said...

I have and am learning so much here!! These photos and information are amazing!! Yes, I agree that even Solomon in his glory had nothing on this beauty! Hoar frost has me running out in my PJs when it appears! You have done such an amazing job on this....

Judy ~ My Front Porch said...

You are showing us lots of secrets with your close-up lenses. Beautiful! Hoar frost and Mexican food...a good combo.

Vee said...

It all looks so gauzy and intricate. Very pretty. Now I remember leaving a comment here, but perhaps it as from the iPad so it didn't fly.

Pamela said...

Oh how I loved reading this. Your pictures are amazing and learning is icing on the cake. Your writing and photographs would make an awesome children's nonfiction book.

Sara said...

That was all quite amazing, Jill. I learned a lot I did not know about. I also like how you slipped in some Bible verses and the ladies of Downton Abbey as well.

I'll never look at frost on the ground and roofs around here the same way again.

We also know about mountains disappearing behind inversion layers here in LA.

That last photo is especially gorgeous.

Kori Emerson said...

I am loving your blog. I love your love of life. Being in the moment for the sake of the moment.
I've grown up here in Salt Lake, and it never ceases to amaze me. The lovely things God has made for his children. I have always thought all the pretty little things like lovely snow flakes, frost , the smell of lilacs , he made for his little girls.