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Child standing on snow gauge of the Weather Bureau (1909-1932) snow gauge

"Silent, and soft and slow descends the snow" read the words of Longfellow's poem "Snow-Flakes." Just what is snow and how does it form? When water freezes inside clouds, ice crystals develop. A snow crystal is a single crystal of ice. When ice crystals join together, they form snowflakes. These can fall to the ground in many configurations ranging from a few snowflakes, called a flurry, to an overabundance of blowing snowflakes, called a blizzard. Measuring snowfall is an inexact science and measurement methods can range from simply placing a ruler into the snow to using a "snowboard" or another snow measurement device. This image was one of 72 pictures published in 1917 in a book called The Boy With the U.S. Weather Men. The photo depicts a boy standing next to a shielded snow gauge and the accompanying caption reads, "Measuring the Blizzard's Rage." A sophisticated version of this device - the Nipher Shielded Snow Gauge - is still in use by the United States Weather Service today. In addition to measuring snowfall, man has long been captivated by the beauty of snowflakes. Although most snowflakes are hexagonal in shape, no two snowflakes are alike. In 1885, a Vermont farmer, Wilson A. Bentley, became the first person to successfully photograph a snow crystal. During his lifetime, he captured more than 5000 snow crystal images on film. In 1931 McGraw-Hill published a book, Snow Crystals, featuring 2400 of his photographs. This image of multiple snowflake crystals taken by Theodor Horydczak, a professional photographer who worked in Washington, D.C., from 1923 to 1959, reveals the beauty, complexity and individuality that fascinated Bentley.

Winter scenes. Snowflakes, three rows of four

Links to more information about measuring snowfall and snowflake photography:
Snow Measurement Guidelines -- National Weather Service publication
Snowcrystals.com -- Caltech online guide to snowflakes, snow crystals and other ice phenomena
Playtime for Kids: Winter Storms -- National Weather Service Links for Kids
National Weather Service Historic Library - Measuring Instruments and Methods -- Large resolution views of the above image and other weather instruments