How fast do snowflakes fall?

by Tom Skilling Today at 6PM

Dear Tom,

How fast do snowflakes fall? Does wind slow them down?

Abby Vaughn

Dear Abby,

According to snow expert Nolan Doesken, the vast majority of snowflakes, probably 95 percent of them, fall at speeds of one to six feet per second. Doesken, a Chicagoan, is the State Climatologist for Colorado at the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University. The surface area and weight of a snowflake are the primary factors affecting its fall speed. Large flakes act like parachutes and fall slower, but kernel-like snow pellets known as “graupel” can fall much faster. Temperature, too is a factor. Heavy, wet snowflakes – the kind that fall when temperatures are above freezing – fall faster. Surprisingly, snowflake fall speed is independent of horizontal wind. Even during high winds, they still at one to six feet per second.

Tom Skilling

Tom Skilling

Tom Skilling, WGN-TV chief meteorologist, appears weekdays on WGN Midday News, WGN Evening News and WGN News at Nine. He celebrated his 30th anniversary with WGN-TV in August 2008. Since 1997, Skilling has masterminded the weather page in the Chicago Tribune. In the city of Chicago and beyond, he has become the superman of meteorology: when in doubt, it is Tom that the city turns to when figuring out the mysteries of nature. WGN-TV received the 2005 Environmental Reporting Award from the Audubon Society, an accomplishment that is due to Tom's performance.

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