For our 56th anniversary, my wife Mary Alice and I traveled to Amish country in Ohio, where we stayed at a lovely inn.
We left Troy Monday morning during a snow squall, which caused us some apprehension about making a seven-hour ride with snowy road conditions. After going through Ralston, we saw two adult bald eagles sitting in a tree along the roadside. I found a driveway where I could turn around so Mary Alice could take a few pictures of the majestic birds.
Being an optimist, Mary Alice took this as a good omen, and we continued on our way. While crossing Interstate 80, we saw three places where trucks had wrecked sometime through the night due to the slippery road. The road still was wet and, every time we neared a vehicle, it was necessary to clean the windshield.
At a rest stop near the Ohio State line, I noticed what appeared to be snowballs lying in a field. During the final two hours to Sugar Creek, we saw many fields full of these unusual snowballs. I told Mary Alice that, many years ago, I read that a strong wind can cause snow to roll into a ball; however, I could not remember what this was called.
We made it to our destination and soon forgot all about the strange snowballs. At an antique shop the next day, we mentioned the snowballs to the owner, and he showed us the Akron newspaper, which had a story along with pictures of the "snow rollers."
At first glance, the snow rollers appeared to be made by children having a snowball fight; however, there were no children in sight and no footprints in the snowy fields, only the snow rollers. Snow conditions have to be just right for snow rollers to be formed by the wind.
The area in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio had a covering of a dry powdery snow on the ground when Sunday night's temperatures rose to 40 degrees. The warmer temperatures caused the top of the cold, powdery snow to melt, making the top 2 inches of snow wet, just the consistency needed to make a snowman.
The warm temperatures were brought into the area on a 25-mph wind, just strong enough to pick up the wet snow and roll it into a ball. The size of the ball will continue to increase as long as the wind can push the weight of the snow. These snow rollers were different sizes, with most hollow inside and generally occurring in open fields that were clear of vegetation poking up through the snow.
As we study nature we find the more we learn, the more secrets of nature there are to learn. In Job 38, verse 22, God asks Job, "Has thou entered into the treasure of the snow?" In Job verses 22 through 30, God is saying that Job cannot understand even such common things as snow, hail, rain, lightning, frost and ice.
We have many types of snow, which can be designated by the shape of its flakes and the description of how it is falling on the ground. A blizzard and snowstorm indicate a heavy snowfall over a large area; a snow squall gives a heavy snowfall over a narrow band; while flurries are used for a light snowfall.
Snow that falls in the form of a ball rather than a flake is known as graupel (sleet and snow grains are types of graupel).
Once on the ground snow can be categorized as powdery when fluffy; granular when the cycle of melting and refreezing begins; and crud (slushy snow or eventually ice) when packed down into a dense drift after multiple melting and refreezing cycles.
A powdered snow will drift with the wind, sometimes to the depth of several feet. After attaching to hillsides, a blown snow can evolve into a snow slab, which is an avalanche hazard on steep slopes.
Well, the snow rollers caused quite a stir in western Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, where they occurred; however, we talked to people, at the inn and while shopping, who never noticed the strange phenomenon, showing that every one is not in touch with nature and its many wonders.
Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. He has published several books about his experiences. Questions and comments may be sent to him at 153 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.