“I find snow to be an unnecessary freezing of water” said comedian Carl Reiner. Frozen water gets a bad rap, probably because of fender benders and people slipping and falling. Icy hibernation, month after month, is a reality for much of the planet. We find ways to cope with the snow, and even enjoy the majestic, crystalline landscape outside our windows. The best antidote is to get out and play in all the White Gold, right?
Meteorologists talk about heavy wet snows and cold, powdery snow prone to blowing and drifting. We talk about blizzard potential when sustained winds go over 35 mph with visibility under 1/4 mile. I “borrowed” my college professor’s snowstorm rating scale while at Penn State. He told students “It’s impossible to predict snow down to the inch! There are nuisance storms, where traffic is slower but people get around OK. There are plowable storms, enough to shovel and plow. And then there are rare crippling storms, where everything shuts down. Everything falls in those 3 categories!”
Recent research confirms that Inuit people (formerly known as Eskimo) living at far northern latitudes have roughly 50 names to describe different types of snow. But NOTHING compares with the Scots, who have 421 different terms to describe various flavors of snow. Yes, Scotland! Here are a few entries that caught my eye:
- “snaw” — snow (kind of a generic term)
- “snawie” — snowy
- “blin-drift” — drifting snow
- “skovin” — a very large snowflake
- “flindrikin” — a very light snow shower
- “flukra” — snow falling in huge flakes
- “spitters” — small drops or flakes of wind-driven snow and rain
I do like the name “spitters“. I might even start using this expression in my weather reports, although I might get run out of town in the process. “Sneesl” is another favorite, which means “beginning to rain or snow”. If you have a little free time on your hands check out The Historical Thesaurus of Scots. It’s kind of mind boggling! Here are a few more to annoy colleagues and family members. There’s a bad game here? Snowy Trivial Pursuits?
With all the snow we get you’d think we’d have more creative, prolific ways to describe all the different flavors of snow lurking out there. Because I suspect, if we put our collective minds to it, we can come up with FAR MORE than 421 names for snow. Some of those names may be unprintable, but someone should start a list, eh?
I’ll go first: “Snizzle” is a snowy drizzle. “Frizzle” is light, misty freezing drizzle. See, isn’t this fun? Now it’s your turn.