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How Many Words for Snow?

How Many Words for Snow?

Legend has it that Inuit have more than 100 words for snow. While the actual number is difficult to determine, linguists think the number is probably closer to 50. That may still sound like a lot until you realize that English has nearly as many.

Here’s a look at just a few of the terms used in our language to refer to different types of snow, from basic snowflake shapes to complicated formations made by the wind:

  1. Barchan: A horseshoe-shaped snowdrift.
  2. Blizzard: A violent winter storm that combines subfreezing temperatures, strong winds, and snowfall. To officially qualify as a blizzard, a storm must reduce visibility to less than a quarter of a mile and last for at least three hours.
  3. Corn snow: Coarse, granular wet snow formed by cycles of melting and refreezing.
  4. Cornice: An overhanging accumulation of ice and wind-blown snow, such as might be found on a cliff face.
  5. Column: A type of snowflake that is shaped like a six-sided column.
  6. Crust: A hard, frozen layer of snow over top of a softer, less-supportive layer.
  7. Dendrite: A type of snowflake that has six points. This is the archetypal “snowflake” shape.
  8. Finger drift: A narrow snowdrift across a roadway. So named because several of them together resemble the fingers on a hand.
  9. Firn: Snow that is more than a year old, but that has not yet consolidated into ice.
  10. Flurry: A brief snowfall that produces little to no accumulation.
  11. Graupel: Also called snow pellets, graupel refers to round, opaque snowflakes. They form when regular snowflakes fall through ice-cold liquid clouds. Droplets from the clouds freeze onto the crystals, forming a solid mass. Graupel is similar to hail, but is smaller and less dense.
  12. Ground blizzard: A windstorm that is not accompanied by snowfall, but which reduces visibility by lifting existing snow from the ground.
  13. Hoarfrost: Frost that resembles spiky hairs. This type of frost gets its name from the word “hoar,” which means “ancient,” because it resembles an old man’s bushy, white beard. It happens when water vapor freezes instantly after coming into contact with a very cold surface. It occurs because the moisture in the air goes directly from vapor to solid, skipping the liquid phase. It tends to form on small surfaces, such as wires, tree branches, plant stems, and leaf edges, and sometimes over existing snowfall.
  14. Hominy snow: a term used primarily in the South Midland region, refers to an icy, granular snow that looks like hominy.
  15. Lake-effect snow: Snow produced when icy winds move across a large body of warmer lake water. Common in the Great Lakes region of the U.S. and Canada.
  16. Needle: A type of snowflake that is much longer than it is wide.
  17. New snow: Recent snowfall in which individual ice crystals can still be seen.
  18. Old snow: Snowpack in which individual snow crystals can no longer be recognized.
  19. Penitents: Tall, thin, spikes of hardened snow. They can range from a few inches to several feet in height.
  20. Perennial snow: Snow that remains on the ground for more than a year.
  21. Pillow drift: A wide, deep snowdrift across a roadway.
  22. Polycrystal: A formation made up of several snowflakes that fuse into one massive flake.
  23. Powder: New snow composed of loose, fresh crystals.
  24. Rimed snow: Snowflakes coated in tiny frozen water droplets called rime.
  25. Ripples: Marks on the surface of snow, similar to the ripples in sand, caused by wind.
  26. Roller: A naturally occurring cylinder of snow formed by the wind.
  27. Sastrugi: Irregular grooves and ridges in snow caused by the wind.
  28. Seasonal snow: The amount of snow that accumulates during one season.
  29. Sleet: Rain mixed with snow.
  30. Slush: Partially melted snow on the ground.
  31. Snirt: Snow mixed with dirt.
  32. Snow bridge: An arch formed by snow and wind.
  33. Snowdrift: Snow on the ground that has been blown by the wind to a height greater than the actual amount of snow that has fallen.
  34. Snow squall: A brief, intense snow shower that does not qualify as a blizzard due to its short duration.
  35. Snowburst: An intense snow shower that produces a lot of accumulation in a short period of time.
  36. Snowflake: A cluster of ice crystals that falls from a cloud.
  37. Snowpack: Also called snow cover, this term refers to the total amount of all snow and ice on the ground, including both recent snowfall and previous snow and ice that have not melted.
  38. Snowstorm: Any weather event that features large amounts of snowfall.
  39. Sun cups: Shallow, bowl-shaped hollows formed by irregular patches of intense sunlight.
  40. Whiteout – a blizzard or squall that reduces visibility to near zero.

Are there any we left off? Tell us in the comments below!

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  • Giselle Neely says:

    I live in Colorado. Last Spring we had a long-lasting blizzard that the weather people called a “bomb cyclone.” Is that a real meteorological term? I had never heard it before. Sounds like a hyper-dramatical way of saying, a blizzard.

  • Holly says:

    Thunder Snow..

  • cindy heiselman says:

    So apparently what I have been calling snow pellets already has a title. The hominy snow is not a common term here in the Northwest. I also tell my husband it looks like God’s beanbag chair sprung a leak. Happy snow days whatever you call it.

  • Michael Achord says:

    Cajuns call it “Sneaux” (pronounced snow)

  • Susan Broadaway says:

    Snain – that snow that barely has a texture – when the temperature drops just enough for rain to start to turn to snow, usually only discernible on your windshield. Okay, I made it up because there is not other word for it.

  • John Chaneski says:

    I remember a friend was collecting words for snow and I suggested “the white stuff,” which he found amusing but summarily rejected. However, I’ve lost count of the number of times I hear it, especially by TV meteorologists.

  • Lynn Spann Bowditch says:

    “poor man’s fertilizer”, and “the snow that takes the snow”.

  • chester says:

    A white Christmas is a Christmas with the presence of snow: either on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day, depending on local tradition.

  • Rose says:

    Sneer – snow and sleet mix.

  • Melinda Thompson says:

    Black ice snow. The black ice is formed when the precipitation (of rainy snow) is freezing and then continues freezing on the roadways, making them incredibly slick

  • Amanda says:

    Growing up, we always used the terms “December snow” or “New year snow”. Snow happening in October, November, December was usually the fat, fluffy, pretty flakes. Most of the snow after January were the hard pellets.

  • KIMBERLY NIX says:

    WHAT IS HOMINY SNOW OR THE MEANING ?

  • Kaye says:

    How about the term “whiteout” for an especially fierce blizzard with near zero visibility?
    Think this could be included here. Nice list to have.

  • Monica K. says:

    A pluviophile enjoys the smell and sound of falling rain. Is there a term for the enjoyment of falling snow?

  • Brenda says:

    Do eskimos speak the same language as we do in the US? I know our modern-day American English consists of many many different synonyms for different words. I only know the ones like “blizzard, flurry, snowstorm, sleet, snowflake, snowpack etc..” If eskimos are from northern Canada shouldnt they have the same words and language like us? Pretty interesting, this language is very complex!! No wonder people from other countries cant seem to understand us

    • Jaime McLeod says:

      Brenda,
      Many of the people who are popularly referred to as “Eskimos” do speak English now, but that is not their ancestral language. As noted in the story, there are many groups who speak many different languages.

  • Steve says:

    I recall the term ‘blue snow’ for the shadowed snow that looked bluish in the bright sunlight.

  • Sue says:

    We have hominy snow here in the Ozarks.

  • Maureen says:

    I was surprised how many of the terms I knew and use on a regular basis. I would guess that comes from living in northern Canada

  • Rosia Morrison says:

    Never knew there was so many names for snow,Thanks for the information ****

  • Rusty says:

    I agree with Roy anything other than snow is merely an adjective. I have also never been “corned in”. Too funny!!!

  • Diana Rojek says:

    You forgot White out, same as Ground blizzard but much more commonly used, even the TV weatherpersons use it.

  • Neil Frandsen says:

    Here, in Western Canada, the Ground-drift Blizzard is one of the dreaded varities. It not only features limited to zero visibility, it can close highways and byways with drifts, it can also create black ice very quicly, due to happening under bright sunshine!
    In the High Arctic, on Banks Island, I had the displeasure of working, laying out seismic lines, in a combination of Sea Fog and a Ground-drift Blizzard. I drove my Rolligon over a 25 foot tall cliff, one day, in early winter.

  • kat irvine says:

    The word “Eskimo” is commonly used in Alaska to refer to all Inuit and Yupik people of the world, this name however is considered derogatory in many other places. The people of Canada and Greenland prefer other names. “Inuit,” meaning “people,” is used in most of Canada, and the language is called “Inuktitut” in eastern Canada although other local designations are used. The Inuit people of Greenland refer to themselves as “Greenlanders” or “Kalaallit” in their language and means “people
    If in Canada use the term Inuit as Eskimo is seen as derogatory. Most tribes elsewhere still accept Eskimo, except for those in Greenland, who prefer Greenlanders.

  • Bob Herndon says:

    Here in Middle Tennessee, I have heard the term, “Hominy Snow”, referring to the little white pellets that come at the early onset, often when rain is changing to snow. The flakes or pellets look like little grains of hominy. (Similar to “corn snow” but it appears more like a “dry” rather than “wet” pellet.

  • Karen says:

    Thank you for this info. Most interesting.
    I will never look at snow the same again. I will probably inspect a few flakes to see if I can discern the differences. That’s if we get any down here in the deep south.

  • Roy Chris says:

    There is only one word for snow, the others are just adjectives describing the texture, color or some other feature. I’ve never heard anyone comment that they are “corned in” or it’s corning outside or there’s corn all over the ground.

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