Why Snow Makes Us Feel Serene

Snow is a pretty good natural sound absorber. Continue reading →

Snowpocalypse 2016 brought cities in the eastern United States to a standstill, rendering streets impassable, knocking out power lines, and leaving residents to dig their way out of their homes. But while all that was pretty rough, once you finally got outside and walked around, the thick blanket of snow that had descended made the urban landscape seem, well, oddly serene and peacefully quiet - like a real-life version of a souvenir snow globe.

That calming effect from the snowfall, to a degree, is explained by acoustics. As University of Kentucky engineering professor David Herrin explained in an interview with public radio station WFPL: "Snow is a pretty good natural sound absorber."

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How good? On a scale between 0 and 1, snow scores about a 0.6, which means that it typically absorbs about 60 percent of the sound around it, Herrin said.

"Snow is porous, in some ways like a commercial sound absorbing foam," he explained. Snowflakes are quieter than raindrops, because they fall at a slower speed and have less of an impact when they fall, he said.

But snow's aural characteristics also can change, depending upon conditions, according to the National Snow and Ice Center. If the surface melts and refreezes, the snow becomes smooth and hard, and will reflect sound waves more readily. In that situation, sounds actually may seem clearer and travel over longer distances.

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You've probably also noticed those crunchy, creaky sounds when you're walking around. Those occur because a layer of snow is made up of tiny grains of ice, surrounded by air. When you step on the snow, it compresses the grains. That causes them to rub against each other.

Scientists haven't yet determined exactly what temperature causes snow to get crunchy, but generally, the colder the snow is, the louder the crunch, according to the center's website.

A man and a dog walk through snowy streets in suburban Maryland on Saturday, Jan. 25.

The winners are in from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's "Weather in Focus" photo contest, picked from more than 2,000 entries taken between Jan. 1, 2014 and March 31, 2015. "From rainbows and sunsets to lightning and tornadoes, the winning photos aren’t just captivating to look at, but inspire us to look at the world in different ways," said Douglas Hilderbrand, NOAA's contest judge and Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador Lead. "It was difficult to pick winners from so many good entries." In first place, from the category "Science in Action," is "Green Bank Telescope in WV" by Mike Zorger, Falls Church, Va.

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All 16 winning images will be displayed in a

Gateway to NOAA

exhibit located on the NOAA campus in Silver Spring, Md., starting in July. Second place in "Science in Action" went to "Photographer captures the aurora" by Christopher Morse, Fairbanks, Alaska.

In third place: "Atmospheric Research Observatory" by Joseph Phillips, Boulder, Colo.

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And honorable mention also went to Joseph Phillips, Boulder, Colo. for "Atmospheric Research Observatory."

In the category "Weather, Water & Climate," first place went to "Snow Express" by Conrad Stenftenagel, Saint Anthony, Ind.

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In second place was "Proton arc over Lake Superior" by Ken William, Clio, Mich.

"With a Bang" by Bob Larson, Prescott, Ariz., won third place in the "Weather, Water & Climate" category.

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Honorable mention went to Alana Peterson, Maple Lake, Minn. for "Raindrops on a Leaf."

A second honorable mention was won for "Fire in the Sky over Glacier National Park" by Sashikanth Chintla, North Brunswick, N.J.

Sunsets and Other Sky Wonders

In the category "In the Moment," first place went to "Smoky Mountains" by Elijah Burris, Canton, N.C.

Second place went to "Spring Captured: Freezing rain attempts to halt spring" by Mike Shelby, Elkridge, Md.

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And third place went to "Rolling clouds in Lake Tahoe" by Christopher LeBoa, San Leandro, Calif.

Of course the professionals had their own category. First place was won by Brad Goddard, Orion, Ill., for "Stars behind the storm."

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Brad Goddard pretty much cleaned up this category, winning second (and third) place with "A tornado churns up dust in sunset light near Traer, IA."

Third place went for "A tornado crosses the path, Reinbeck, IA" by Brad Goddard.

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“Fog rolls in from the ocean on a hot summer day, Belbar, N.J.” by Robert Raia, Toms River, N.J., won honorable mention in the pro category.

To see all of the images on NOAA's website, go here.