Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Visit from Jack Frost and the Iceman

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Gray Tobacco Barn on Frosty Winter Morning, Dane County, Wisconsin

There’s no doubt about it, Wisconsin winters are long and, after the rush of the holidays, January can seem like a long month. It’s usually a very cold month, too.

Ice on Pine Boughs, Dane County, Wisconsin

Sometimes, in the depths of winter’s bitter cold grip, we wonder why we live in a state like Wisconsin. And other times, we find ourselves in awe of the magical winter scenes that unfold before us.

Frosty Winter Morning, Dane County, Wisconsin

In February, 2008, the Madison, Wisconsin area was “treated” to a thick coating of ice that covered every surface, including the roads. And, amazingly, the icy coatings stayed strong for four days in a row.

Ice on Tree Silhouettes, Dane County, Wisconsin

After the roads had been salted, it was fun to drive around and see everything sparkling like diamonds. Even with the sun shining, the ice stayed on the tree branches, and when the sun set in the evening, the icy branches glowed with an orange hue.

Sunset on Icy Tree Silhouettes, Dane County, Wisconsin

In the middle of January this year, we were treated to some rather unusual weather – freezing fog and a combination of hoar frost and soft rime, which I’ll explain in a minute.

Hoar Frost on the Shores of Rock Lake, Jefferson County, Wisconsin

And, again, this unusual condition happened three days in a row. It was unusual to begin with because January is usually bitter cold. But to have everything frosted from the huge pine trees to the smallest blades of grass was a treat for the eyes.

Frosty Winter Morning, Dane County, Wisconsin

The frost appeared to be hoar frost in some spots and soft rime in others. Hoar frost consists of soft ice crystals that usually form during a clear winter night. And these crystals are deposited on tree branches, bushes, grasses, weeds, and all kinds of other surfaces.

Frosty Winter Morning, Dane County, Wisconsin

Sometimes the hoar frost is so thick that it appears to be snow. Soft rime looks a lot like hoar frost. The difference is actually in how the frost is formed. Soft rime often forms when there is freezing fog (which we had during this weather pattern) and in slightly windy conditions.

Frosty Winter Morning, Dane County, Wisconsin

Soft rime can be fairly compact or it can have fairly long “feathers” and “tails” which might point in the direction from which the wind is coming. The frosted spruce trees below line the road near my home and the trees on the other side of the road were not very frosted on the side toward the road.

Frosty Winter Morning, Dane County, Wisconsin

Whether the frost we experienced was hoar frost or rime doesn’t really matter. It was such a beautiful “winter wonderland” and we were blessed to enjoy its beauty for three straight days. This is why we live in Wisconsin and these are the times for which we are truly grateful.

Happy Shunpiking!

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