Did you have to Google anything today? Well if you did you may have saw that enormous snowflake hitting the ground and quickly grabbing the attention of close-by cow in today's Google doodle. What's the deal you may ask?
The Google doodle is in celebration of 125 years since the world's largest observed snowflake in recorded history. You probably won't believe it, but the snowflake was a staggering 15" in diameter. It fell on this date in 1887 in the town of Fort Keogh, Montana.
The Guinness World Record book says ranchers, Matt Coleman, described the snowflakes with that storm as being "larger than milk pans." Probably the reason the cow is in the doodle.
We will never quite know how reliable this report was. There was no hard evidence besides Matt's word. Reliable reports of snowflakes have been as big as two to six inches in diameter. However, there is nothing scientifically to prove that a snowflake can't get that big as the record suggests happened. Here's a quote from the National Snow & Ice Data Center when it comes to how big a snowflake can get:
“Snowflakes are agglomerates of many snow crystals. Most snowflakes are less than one-half inch across. Under certain conditions, usually requiring near-freezing temperatures, light winds, and unstable, convective atmospheric conditions, much larger and irregular flakes close to two inches across in the longest dimension can form. No routine measure of snowflake dimensions are taken, so the exact answer is not known.”
There has been a lot of research done with snowfall and snowfall rates lately. The New York Times did an article a few years back that talks about some of these researches and what they have found when it comes to big flakes. As the NSIDC and other studies have found, you get big flakes when temperatures are close to freezing and winds are light. Ice crystals can stick together more when its close to freezing and with little to no wind they don't break up as much during the fall. It is possible that the 15" snowflake could have been several large independent snowflakes stuck together
Here's a link to the article:
So sure this record could be a tall tale or just a really large exaggeration, but there are such things as enormous snowflakes. Maybe they aren't 15 inches but a six inch is no tiny snowflake. It made for a fun sight on Google today though!
Here's a Youtube video of the animation if you missed it.