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Flake Appreciation Day

On December 18, around the time of the year when the snow starts falling in much of the Northern Hemisphere, snowflakes are celebrated with Flake Appreciation Day. There are different sizes and shapes of snowflakes, and none are exactly alike, although they do fit into one of 35 different shape categories. They form when water vapor condenses into ice crystals in the clouds. They accumulate around particles of dust or dirt, which affects their shape, as do factors such as temperature, humidity, and currents.

Snowflakes have different numbers of water molecules, and it is these molecules which cause them to form a crystal pattern. A six-sided crystal snowflake is most common, but flat or thin needle-shaped flakes also form. Snowflakes also have different amounts of oxygen and hydrogen, which also affects their shape. Although they are made of clear ice, they appear white because of diffuse reflection.

Snowflakes can be studied by putting a chemical compound on a glass plate and waiting for a flake to land on it. Once one lands, the compound covers it and hardens. After the flake melts it leaves behind its shape.

Wilson Bentley was an important person in the history of snowflakes. Born in Jericho, Vermont, in 1865, Bentley used photomicrography—a type of photography that uses microscopes—to capture the images of 5,000 snowflakes. He found that none are exactly alike, and published articles and books of his findings. He also donated some of his photographs to the Smithsonian Institution. By the time of his death in 1931, he was known as the world's leading snowflake expert and "The Snowflake Man."

How to Observe Flake Appreciation Day

If you get lucky and it happens to be snowing today, go outside and catch some snowflakes on your tongue. Depending on how many flakes have accumulated on the ground, you could use them to make snowballs, snow angels, snow forts, and snowmen. To make sure you find some snowflakes, you could take a road trip to a place that is predicting snow or to a place where snowflakes often fall.

If you can't get to a place where snowflakes are in the forecast, you can still appreciate them today. Perhaps you could draw some or cut some out of paper. You could also pick up a book of Bentley's snowflake photographs, or a children's book called Snowflake Bentley. Watching a short film about Bentley called "The Snowflake Man" may be another good way to celebrate.

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