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15 Incredibly Cool Facts About Snow

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Love it (like when you’re curled up by the fire) or hate it (when you’re on the road), snow is a major part of winter for many people. Get to know the flurries and flakes on a deeper level with these 15 interesting facts.

1. SNOWFLAKES AREN'T THE ONLY FORM OF SNOW.

Snow can also precipitate as graupel or sleet. Not to be confused with hail, graupel (or snow pellets) are opaque ice particles that form in the atmosphere as ice crystals fall through freezing cloud droplets—meaning cloud particles that are colder than the freezing point of water but remain liquid. The cloud droplets group together to form a soft, lumpy mass. Sleet, on the other hand, consists of drops of rain that freeze into small, translucent balls of ice as they fall from the sky.

2. SYRACUSE, NEW YORK TRIED TO MAKE SNOW ILLEGAL.

America’s snowiest major city has an impressive arsenal of plows, but in 1992 it tried a new trick to control white stuff. The city’s Common Council passed a decree that any more snow before Christmas Eve was illegal. As it turns out, Mother Nature is a scofflaw—it snowed just two days later.

3. IT'S A MYTH THAT NO TWO SNOWFLAKES ARE EXACTLY THE SAME.

In 1988, a scientist found two identical snow crystals. They came from a storm in Wisconsin.

4. THE LARGEST SNOWFLAKE MIGHT HAVE BEEN 15 INCHES WIDE.

According to some sources, the largest snowflakes ever observed fell during a snowstorm in January 1887 at Montana’s Fort Keogh. While witnesses said the flakes were “larger than milk pans,” these claims have not been substantiated.

5. SNOW IS TRANSLUCENT, NOT WHITE.

Snow, like the ice particles it’s made up of, is actually colorless. It’s translucent, which means that light does not pass through it easily (like it would transparent glass), but is rather reflected. It’s the light reflected off a snowflake’s faceted surface that creates its white appearance.

But why white? The reason we see objects as colors is because some wavelengths of light are absorbed while others are reflected (remember, light is a spectrum of colors). The object takes on whatever color light is reflected. For example, the sky is blue because the blue wavelengths are reflected while the other colors are absorbed. Since snow is made up of so many tiny surfaces, the light that hits it is scattered in many directions and will actually bounce around from one surface to the next as it’s reflected. This means no wavelength is absorbed or reflected with any consistency, so the white light bounces back as the color white.

6. AND, IN FACT, IT DOESN'T ALWAYS APPEAR WHITE.

Deep snow can often appear blue. This is because layers of snow can create a filter for the light, causing more red light to be absorbed than blue light. The result is that deeper snow appears blue—think about how your snowy footprints compare to the surrounding landscape.

Snow can also sometimes appear pink. Snow in high alpine areas and the coastal polar regions contains cryophilic fresh-water algae that have a red pigment that tints the surrounding snow.

7. EACH WINTER IN THE U.S., AT LEAST 1 SEPTILLION ICE CRYSTALS FALL FROM THE SKY.

That’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000—24 zeros!

8. THE MOST SNOW TO FALL IN A 24-HOUR PERIOD IN THE UNITED STATES IS 75.8 INCHES.

In 1921, over six feet of snow fell between April 14 at 2:30 p.m. and April 15 at 2:30 p.m. in Silver Lake, Colorado.

9. COLORADO ALSO HOLDS THE RECORD FOR THE MOST SNOW TO FALL IN A SINGLE CALENDAR DAY.

On December 4, 1913, 63 inches of snow fell on Georgetown, Colorado.

10. SNOW HAS NEVER BEEN REPORTED IN KEY WEST.

The coldest temperature on record for the Florida city (reached on January 13, 1981, and January 12, 1886) is 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

11. NOT EVERY BIG SNOWSTORM IS A BLIZZARD.

In order to be classified as a blizzard, a snowstorm must meet a very specific set of qualifications. Winds must blow at least 35 miles per hour and the snowfall must reduce visibility to less than 0.25 miles for a period of at least three hours.

Other common types of snowstorms include a snow squall (an intense snowfall accompanied by strong winds that only lasts a short time) and a snowburst (a brief, intense snowfall that results in rapid accumulation of snow).

12. IGLOOS CAN BE MORE THAN 100 DEGREES WARMER INSIDE THAN OUTSIDE.

And they’re warmed entirely by body heat. Since fresh, compacted snow is approximately 90 to 95 percent trapped air (meaning it can’t move and transfer heat) it’s a great insulator. Many animals, such as bears, dig deep holes in the snow to hibernate through the winter.

13. NOVA SCOTIA HOLDS THE RECORD FOR THE MOST SNOW ANGELS EVER MADE SIMULTANEOUSLY IN MULTIPLE LOCATIONS. 

In 2011, 22,022 Nova Scotia residents in 130 separate locations all plopped down in the snow to make snow angels.

14. NORTH DAKOTA HOLDS THE RECORD FOR MOST SNOW ANGELS MADE SIMULTANEOUSLY IN ONE PLACE.

Back in 2007 it was 8962 people in North Dakota who plopped down in the snow to waggle their arms and legs to make snow angels.

15. FEELING MORE DEVILISH? THE LARGEST SNOWBALL FIGHT ON RECORD TOOK PLACE IN SEATTLE.

Exactly 5834 snow fighters came together to exchange frozen barrages to create the largest snowball fight in the world on January 12, 2013.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Steve Martin
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

Is there anything Steve Martin can't do? In addition to being one of the world's most beloved comedians and actors, he's also a writer, a musician, a magician, and an art enthusiast. And he's about to put a number of these talents on display with Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life, a new comedy special that just arrived on Netflix. To commemorate the occasion, here are 10 things you might not have known about Steve Martin.

1. HE WAS A CHEERLEADER.

As a yellleader (as he refers to it in a yearbook signature) at his high school in Garden Grove, California, Martin tried to make up his own cheers, but “Die, you gravy-sucking pigs,” he later told Newsweek, did not go over so well.

2. HIS FIRST JOB WAS AT DISNEYLAND.

Martin’s first-ever job was at Disneyland, which was located just two miles away from his house. He started out selling guidebooks, keeping $.02 for every book he sold. He graduated to the Magic Shop on Main Street, where he got his first taste of the gags that would later make his career. He also learned the rope tricks you see in ¡Three Amigos! from a rope wrangler over in Frontierland.

3. HE OWES HIS WRITING JOB WITH THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS TO AN EX-GIRLFRIEND.

Thanks to a girlfriend who got a job dancing on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Martin landed a gig writing for the show. He had absolutely no experience as a writer at the time. He shared an office with Bob Einstein—better known to some as Super Dave Osborne or Marty Funkhauser—and won an Emmy for writing in 1969.

4. HE WAS A CONTESTANT ON THE DATING GAME.

While he was writing for the Smothers Brothers, but before he was famous in his own right, Martin was on an episode of The Dating Game. (Spoiler alert: He wins. But did you have any doubt?)

5. MANY PEOPLE THOUGHT HE WAS A SERIES REGULAR ON SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.

Martin hosted and did guest spots on Saturday Night Live so often in the 1970s and '80s that many people thought he was a series regular. He wasn't. 

6. HIS FATHER WROTE A REVIEW OF HIS FIRST SNL APPEARANCE.

After his first appearance on SNL, Martin’s father, the president of the Newport Beach Association of Realtors, wrote a review of his son’s performance in the company newsletter. “His performance did nothing to further his career,” the elder Martin wrote. He also once told a newspaper, “I think Saturday Night Live is the most horrible thing on television.”

7. HE POPULARIZED THE AIR QUOTE.

If you find yourself making air quotes with your fingers more than you’d really like, you have Martin to thank. He popularized the gesture during his guest spots on SNL and stand-up performances.

8. HE QUIT STAND-UP COMEDY IN THE EARLY 1980S.

Martin gave up stand-up comedy in 1981. “I still had a few obligations left but I knew that I could not continue,” he told NPR in 2009. “But I guess I could have continued if I had nothing to go to, but I did have something to go to, which was movies. And you know, the act had become so known that in order to go back, I would have had to create an entirely new show, and I wasn't up to it, especially when the opportunity for movies and writing movies came around.”

9. HE'S A MAJOR ART COLLECTOR.

As an avid art collector, Martin owns works by Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, and Edward Hopper. He sold a Hopper for $26.9 million in 2006. Unfortunately, being rich and famous doesn’t mean Martin is immune to scams: In 2004, he spent about $850,000 on a piece believed to be by German-Dutch modernist painter Heinrich Campendonk. When Martin tried to sell the piece, “Landschaft mit Pferden” (or "Landscape With Horses") 15 months later, he was informed that it was a forgery. Though the painting still sold, it was at a huge loss.

10. HE'S AN ACCOMPLISHED BLUEGRASS PERFORMER.

Many people already know this, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that he’s an extremely accomplished bluegrass performer. With the help of high school friend John McEuen, who later became a member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Martin taught himself to play the banjo when he was 17. He's been picking away ever since. If you see him on stage these days, he’s likely strumming a banjo with his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers. As seen above, they make delightful videos.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Wine
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by Tilar J. Mazzeo

Between the vine and the liquor store, plenty of secrets are submerged in your favorite bottle of vino. Here, the author of Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma spills some of the best.

1. DIGITAL EYES ARE EVERYWHERE IN VINEYARDS.

Certain premium estates in Bordeaux and Napa are beginning to look a little more like an army base—or an Amazon.com warehouse. They’re using drones, optical scanners, and heat-sensing satellites to keep a digital eye on things. Some airborne drones collect data that helps winemakers decide on the optimal time to harvest and evaluate where they can use less fertilizer. Others rove through the vineyard rows, where they may soon be able to take over pruning. Of course, these are major investments. At $68,000 a pop, the Scancopter 450 is about twice as costly as a 1941 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon!

2. THERE ARE ALSO LOTS OF COW SKULLS.

They’re not everywhere, but biodynamic farming techniques are on the rise among vintners who don’t want to rely on chemicals, and this is one trick they’ve been known to use to combat plant diseases and improve soil PH. It’s called Preparation No. 505, and it involves taking a cow’s skull (or a sheep’s or a goat’s), stuffing it with finely ground oak chips, and burying it in a wet spot for a season or two before adding it to the vineyard compost.

3. FEROCIOUS FOLIAGE IS A VINTNER’S FRIEND.

The mustard flowers blooming between vineyard rows aren’t just for romance. Glucosinolates in plants like radishes and mustard give them their spicy bite, and through the wonders of organic chemistry, those glucosinolates also double as powerful pesticides. Winemakers use them to combat nematodes—tiny worms that can destroy grape crops.

4. WHAT A CANARY IS TO A COAL MINE, ROSES ARE TO A VINEYARD.

Vintners plant roses among their vines because they get sick before anything else in the field. If there’s mildew in the air, it will infect the roses first and give a winemaker a heads-up that it’s time to spray.

5. VINTNERS EXPLOIT THE FOOD CHAIN.

A trio of wines
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Small birds like blackbirds and starlings can clear out 20 percent of a crop in no time. But you know what eats little birds? Big birds. Falconry programs are on the rise in vineyards from California to New Zealand. Researchers have found that raptors eat a bird or two a day (along with a proportion of field mice and other critters) and cost only about as much to maintain as your average house cat.

6. THE BIG PROBLEMS IN TASTING ROOMS ARE VERY SMALL.

Winemakers are constantly seeking ways to manage the swarms of Drosophila melanogaster that routinely gather around the dump buckets in their swanky showrooms. You know these pests as fruit flies, and some vintners in California are exploring ways to use carnivorous plants to tackle the problem without pesticides. Butterworts, sundews, and pitcher plants all have sweet-sounding names, but the bugeating predators make for terrific fruit fly assassins, and you’ll see them decorating tasting rooms across wine country.

7. WINE NEEDS CLEANING.

Winemaking produces hard-to-remove sediments. Filters can catch most of the debris, but winemakers must add “fining agents” to remove any suspended solids that sneak by. Until it was banned in the 1990s, many European vintners used powdered ox blood to clean their wines. Today, they use diatomaceous earth (the fossilized remains of hard-shelled algae), Isinglass (a collagen made from fish swim bladders), and sometimes bentonite (volcanic clay). Irish moss and egg whites are also fine wine cleaners.

8. ATOMS HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS.

About 5 percent of the premium wine sold for cellaring doesn’t contain what the label promises. So how do top-shelf buyers avoid plunking down serious cash on a bottle of something bunk? Most elite wine brokerages, auction houses, and collectors use atomic dating to detect fraud. By measuring trace radioactive carbon in the wine, most bottles can be dated to within a year or two of the vintage.

9. FINE WINES GET MRIs.

Even with atomic dating, there are certain perils involved in buying a $20,000 bottle of wine. Leaving a case in the hot trunk of your car is enough to ruin it, so imagine what can happen over a couple of decades if a wine isn’t kept in the proper conditions. Back in 2002, a chemistry professor at University of California at Davis patented a technique that uses MRI technology to diagnose the condition of vintage wines. Not planning any $20,000 wine purchases? This is still good news for the consumer. This technique may soon be used at airport security, meaning you’ll be able to carry on your booze.

10. THERE’S A TRICK TO AGING YOUR WINE.

If you end up with a bottle of plonk, Chinese scientists have developed a handy solution. Zapping a young wine with electricity makes it taste like something you’ve cellar aged. Scientists aren’t quite sure how it happens yet, but it seems that running your wine for precisely three minutes through an electric field changes the esters, proteins, and aldehydes and can “age” a wine instantly.

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