Last Updated on February 1, 2021
One of the best things you can do during winter is play in the snow. You can build a snowman with your family, ski, create snow angels, sled, and have a snowball fight. But for you to enjoy the snow, there are specific conditions that should be met. This includes the temperature.
See, when it gets cold enough, there’s a higher chance of snow falling. The question is: how cold does it have to be to snow?
Now before we answer such a question, let us first discuss how snow is formed.
How is Snow Formed?
Snow formation is closely related to rain formation – it all starts with water droplets. When water evaporates, it turns into water vapor and rises into the sky. The higher it goes, the colder the air around it gets. So when it gets cold enough, the water vapor crystallizes and turns into ice crystals.
Once the crystals get too heavy, they will fall to the ground. On their way down, they will absorb surrounding ice crystals and form snowflakes. However, since temperatures in the ground and atmosphere can be different, snow may melt and turn to rain, sleet, or ice pellets.
So for the snow to fall to the ground, the right atmosphere and ground temperature should be met. Its path or column should be completely cold and only then will you experience snowfall.
How Cold Does It Have to be to Snow?
Snow forms when the temperature is at or below the freezing point of water. So, it has to be 0 degrees Celcius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit. However, this applies only to the temperature in the atmosphere and not necessarily the temperature you feel on the ground where conditions can be different.
At ground level, the air temperature should be freezing or at least near freezing for snow to fall. To be specific, snow can fall even if it’s below 2 degrees Celcius or 35.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything warmer than 0 degrees to 2 degrees Celcius will melt the snowflake and turn it into sleet. For even warmer temperatures, snow can fall as rain. As a general rule, if the temperature on the ground reaches 5 degrees Celcius or 41 degrees Fahrenheit, there are no chances of snow.
Can it be Too Cold to Snow?
Now, here’s another popular question related to the ideal temperature for the snow to form. It is true that if it gets too warm, snow won’t fall. However, it is not true that it can be too cold for it to snow. See, snowfall can happen even at extremely low temperatures, but only if there’s enough moisture in the air and if there’s air rising.
To understand better, here are the conditions that should be met for the snow to occur:
- Freezing or near-freezing temperature of the air at the surface or ground level.
- Enough moisture in the air.
- Enough lifting of air.
Snow can happen anywhere in the arctic or temperate regions as long as all these conditions are met. So the reason why Antarctica’s Dry Valleys rarely experience snow is not due to its extremely cold temperature. Instead, it is a result of its very low humidity. Not to mention that its strong winds help remove any moisture in the air as well. Such conditions are also the reason why Florida doesn’t get snow. Even if the state has significant moisture in the air, its temperature is rarely cold enough for snow to form.
That said, the saying “it’s too cold to snow” is not true since it refers only to the impacts of temperature. If you consider all conditions in the atmosphere, it is actually “too stable to snow”.
Other Effects of Temperature on Snow
Aside from being a factor that greatly influences the formation of snow, air temperature also affects the size and composition of every snowflake. When it is a little above 0 degrees Celcius, snowflakes tend to melt and stick with each other. Thus, creating bigger and heavier flakes, resulting in “wet” snow. This type of snow sticks easier together, making it better for building a snowman.
On the other hand, if snowflakes follow a path with dry and cool air, you can expect finer and powdery snowflakes. This type of snow is known as “dry” and is better suited for winter sports activities like skiing and snowboarding. If you’re a fan of these activities, check out our recommendations for the best heated ski gloves.
Now back to our main topic about how cold does it have to be to snow, the downside here is that dry snow can be easily drifted away by the wind.
So how cold does it have to be to snow? Well, the temperature in the atmosphere should be at or below 0 degrees Celcius (32 degrees Fahrenheit). Also, take note that if the temperature on the surface or ground reaches at least 5 degrees Celcius (41 degrees Fahrenheit), snow will not form.
There is, however, a high chance of snowfall even if there is relatively warm air close to the ground. Usually, this is around -9 degrees Celcius (15 degrees Fahrenheit). Sometimes, it can be warmer. This is because warmer air is more capable of holding more water vapor than cold air.