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Snow Rolls Across Ohio.

February 1, 2014

I don’t know about you, but I never heard about a Polar Vortex until this winter!  I think they used to be called Alberta Clippers…

As you’ve probably noticed (even down south!), the first month of 2014 has been very cold and snowy.  Here in central Ohio, we’ve been seeing a phenomenon that we don’t usually see- something called Snow Rollers.

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Snow Rollers are nature’s attempt to build snowmen without young mittened hands.  To be a little more scientific about it:

A snow roller is a rare meteorological phenomenon in which large snowballs are formed naturally as chunks of snow are blown along the ground by wind, picking up material along the way, in much the same way that the large snowballs used in snowmen are made.

Unlike snowballs made by people, snow rollers are typically cylindrical in shape, and are often hollow since the inner layers, which are the first layers to form, are weak and thin compared to the outer layers and can easily be blown away, leaving what looks like a doughnut or Swiss roll. Snow rollers have been seen to grow as large as two feet in diameter.

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A key ingredient (after snow) in this weather confection is a lot of wind, and that we’ve had, believe me.  For more than a few nights one could hear the wind howling strongly outside.

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But it’s not just any snow that’ll turn into rollers.  There should be a layer of ice upon which wet and loose snow has fallen.

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If the wind is strong enough, this can cause a small concentration of snow to roll along the surface, gathering more material, which grows larger…

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Snow Rollers can be seen on hilly areas as the snow rolls downhill, but with high winds involved, they’ll be found on flat surfaces as well.

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Yesterday I saw Snow Rollers in parks, on farms, in yards, even on the frozen Scioto River.  Some places had many, others none, so the initial conditions had to be just right.

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Now how cool is that?  I realize that out on the Great Plains these are probably a common winter sight, but not here.  You never know what nature will come up with next!

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30 Comments leave one →
  1. February 1, 2014 11:11 am

    Amazing! You have explained something we saw in the fields in the Scottish Borders last winter – exactly the same kind of snowballs, perhaps not quite so big, with random tracks where they had been rolled by the wind. That’s what we assumed it was, but we couldn’t find anything to explain it. What a winter you are having – such a contrast to ours, with never-ending gales and wind. I hope your icy weather improves soon – the wildlife must be suffering after such a long spell.

    • February 1, 2014 12:12 pm

      Thanks Jo! It’s already warmed up above freezing here, so it looks like the worst is over, for now anyway…

  2. February 1, 2014 11:58 am

    Yup, this has been a winter to remember, or forget, depending on one’s point of view.

  3. February 1, 2014 12:08 pm

    Now how cool is that!? Thanks for the info!

  4. February 1, 2014 2:21 pm

    I have never heard of these, nor seen one and I live in the wilds of Western PA. 🙂
    Very interesting! Maybe we have too many hills…

  5. February 1, 2014 3:05 pm

    I learn something every day.

  6. February 2, 2014 8:01 am

    It’s things like this that keep me going back out there. You just never know what you’ll see or what you’ll learn.

  7. February 2, 2014 9:07 am

    How COOL is that?!?

  8. February 2, 2014 10:35 am

    Fascinating phenomenon!

  9. February 4, 2014 9:04 pm

    That’s incredible! Never seen anything like it!

  10. February 7, 2014 12:04 pm

    Oh my, how interesting and cool is that!!! I am going to look for them here in Michigan. We’ve had enough snow and blowing wind to have a few ourselves. Happy Friday! Margie

  11. February 7, 2014 12:52 pm

    A friend in the Columbus area sent me a bunch of photos of the snow rollers. Pretty amazing! Looks like you found some good ones, too. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and feel a little sorry that I’m missing all the cool winter stuff this year.

  12. keekeepod permalink
    February 7, 2014 9:49 pm

    Snow, high-wind, butt-freezing cold. Repeat. We get it here. Then you. December and January, we mostly got very powdery snow so the winds couldn’t make anything out of it other than throwing it back in my face while I shoveled.
    From googling: Alberta Clipper and Saskatchewan Screamer are storms originate in Alberta and Saskatchewan while Polar Vortex is from the Polar region- a huge area of cold air rotating around and out of the North Pole. I’m guessing that parts of Asian Pacific also got a taste of the Polar Vortex.

    • February 8, 2014 12:28 am

      It certainly felt polar enough down here, Keekeepod! 🙂

      • keekeepod permalink
        February 8, 2014 4:44 am

        One of your recent posts mentioned online bird id resources. Downloaded app Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab of Ornithology from iTunes. It’s 513MB! Thought my internet connection was much slower than normal. Not sure how and when it will be used. Many birds fled Polar Vortex when they could.

  13. February 10, 2014 11:27 pm

    I love your winter photos, they are so gorgeous and so much fun…I do so miss the snow sometimes.

  14. February 17, 2014 3:01 pm

    Haven ‘t heard of this before. I will have to look harder for these in Wisconsin…

    • February 17, 2014 3:08 pm

      These rollers are pretty unusual for my neck of the woods, Inger- I hear they’re more common out west!

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