Winter Weather Expert Tom Niziol knows a lot about wild winter weather phenomena most people have never even heard of! We asked him to explain three of the creepiest, scratch-your-head-in-disbelief phenomena that occur during the winter season.
Photo Courtesy: Louis Bugnion
Penitentes are truly eerie looking spires of snow and ice that look vaguely like those in religious orders who wore white hoods as they processed down the street during Spanish Holy Week. The penitentes actually form under very select atmospheric conditions in the dry Andes Mountains way up at altitudes above 12,000 ft. Because it is so dry the snow does not melt but sublimates, or evaporates into the dry air. Differences in sublimation between the peaks and the hollows actually help to create and sustain these eerie shapes, which I could see as naturally produced “ghost statues”!!!
Photo Courtesy: Amusing Planet
Wow! Ice volcanoes sound dangerously eerie, but it’s just a winter phenomena that occurs on the Great Lakes in most seasons. When ice shelves form along shore during the winter and winds kick up big waves, some of that water pushes under the ice shelf and “erupts” through holes. With air temperatures well below freezing, the water begins to freeze and forms a cone which looks like a real volcanic cone, but it’s made of ice rather than molten rock. They are an eerie sight, especially on Lake Erie 🙂 They can be dangerous however, for anyone who might venture out to climb on one could easily fall through the fragile ice cone into freezing waters, so watch these spooky sights from the shore if possible.
Photo Courtesy: Neatorama
If you’ve ever seen a field filled with these strange frozen objects, you have to wonder how in the world they got there. In reality, these eerie snowballs, which look like parts of a snowman strewn all over the field, form from the atmosphere. When snow cover is a right consistency, just moist enough to congeal together, and the wind is blowing, small chunks of snow can actually get pushed along and as they roll in reaction to the wind, they pick up more snow, just like rolling a snowball to make a snowman. Pretty soon things just “snowball” and these little chunks of snow can grow to some pretty big sizes if the wind is strong enough. They can be beautiful as well, so as eerie as that snow field may look, it is just another beautiful production of nature to enjoy!