Snowflake Field Guide Part 5 - The History of Snow

Well, a brief history of man's interaction with snow. I'm assuming snow was here before mankind.

135 B.C. Han Ying The first mention of the hexagonal form in relation to a snow crystal was made in China in the publication Hanshi waizhuan. "Flowers of plants and trees are in general five-pointed. However, flowers of snow, which are called ying, are always six-pointed."

Twelfth Century Zhu Xi, a philosopher in China, theorized why snowflakes are always six-sided when he wrote: "The reason why snowflakes are six-pointed is because they are only half-frozen rain (xian) (i.e. water) split open by violent winds, and so they must be six-pointed. If one throws a lump of mud on the ground it will splash into a radiating, angular petal-like form. Now 6 is a yin number; and gypsum also is six-pointed with sharp prismatic angular edges. Everything is due to the number inherent in nature. "

c.1390 Wang Kui wrote in Lihaiji: "Snow is the ultimate (state) of yin and completely possesses the number of Water (i.e. 6). Every snow-flake is six-pointed. Frost and snow are due to the condensation of rain and dew. Water is is generated by Metal. A surplus of qi reveals the Mother (i.e. Metal). Hence frost and snow are all white."

1611 Johannes Kepler published a short treatise On the Six-Cornered Snowflake, which was the first scientific reference to snow crystals.

1635 Ren Descartes was the first to pen a reasonably accurate description of snow crystal morphologies -- as well as can be done with the naked eye.

1665 Robert Hooke published Micrographia, with sketches of everything he could view with the latest invention -- the microscope. Included are snow crystal drawings, which revealed the complexity & symmetry of snow crystals.

1931 Wilson A. Bentley (shown in photo above) was a farmer and snow crystal photomicrographer, in Jericho, Vermont, who captured some 5,000 snow crystal images. His entire collection of snow crystal images can be found at the Buffalo Museum of Science. We stopped by the Jericho Historial Society once when were were visiting Vermont years ago. They have a permanent Bentley exhibition with the camera and tools he used, as well as many crystal images -- it's worth checking out if you're ever in that corner of the world.

1954 Ukichiro Nakaya was the first person to perform a true systematic study of snow crystals, which resulted in a giant leap in our understanding of how snow crystals form.

1966 Magono & Lee extend the Nakaya Snowflake Classification chart from 41 classes to 80 in Meteorological classification of natural snow crystals.

There are still snow scientists. Nowadays they are more likely to be studying Arctic climate and its global implications; remote sensing of snow, ice, and frozen ground; physical & mechanical properties of snow; snow cover and glacier mass/extent as indicators of climate change, human-environment interactions; Inuit knowledge; innovative technologies and methodologies; linking indigenous and scientific knowledge, Glaciology; remote sensing of the poles; Antarctic history; geochemistry; and planetary science.

Years ago, as a direct mail promotion, I created a Snowflake Field Guide for the Buffalo Museum of Science. The text was supplied to me by the Museum. Apparently some of their research included the site, Please visit there for more information on snow. Each day this week, I'm posting some facts about flakes. It was originally intended for kids, but I didn't know much of this info when I started.


  1. A fascinating post! Well Done! Perfect timing of course.


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