Snow Science: Shaving Cream & Baking Soda Snow
Discovery Place Nature
Let it snow!
Well…sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Our climate, or average temperature trend, is warming, which means more snow falls as rain. As winters lose their cool, it’s just too warm for powdery snow. Instead, we often get icy or slushy rain, especially in Charlotte.
However, winter tourism areas like ski resorts depend on snow for their livelihood. You can’t ski without snow! They often must take advantage of any cold window they can get to make their own wintry white at night when temperatures are below freezing.
Let’s pretend we own a ski resort and need to make snow. We’re going to test combinations of shaving cream, baking soda and water to test different types of snow.
Ski resorts definitely don’t use these ingredients to make their snow, but this is a fun snow science experiment you can do right in your kitchen!
Age range: Elementary and middle school
Prep time: 5-10 minutes
Learning time: 15 minutes
- 2 bowls
- 1 mixing stick (like a spoon or popsicle stick)
- About ½ cup shaving cream
- About ½ cup baking soda
- Paper towels for clean up
1. In one bowl pour some baking soda. Slowly add shaving cream until you get a snowy consistency. Mix your snow with a spoon or popsicle stick. (This will be your dry powdery snow.)
2. In the other bowl pour some baking soda. Slowly add water until you get a snowy consistency. Mix your snow with a spoon or popsicle stick. (This will be your wet packing snow.)
3. Now it’s time to play and compare!
4. Touch your snow and observe how it feels in your hands. Do you think it’s a wet snow or a dry snow? Is this good for making snowballs or skiing? Reflect on challenges ski resorts face when they must make their own winter snow!
Not all snow is created equal. Every single snowflake has its own pattern and no two snowflakes look alike.
Every type of snowstorm also has a different moisture content. Did you know 1” of liquid rain doesn’t equal 1” of snow? In fact, on average, most snowstorms drop 10” of snow for every 1” of liquid rain! We call this a snow ratio, which changes depending on how wet or Arctic dry a snowstorm is.
Wet snow has a high liquid content which is caused by the snow partially melting before it hits the ground. The wetness of the snowflakes makes it easier for them to stick together as they fall.
Wet snow will often have few, but very large snowflakes. Wet snow and temperatures below freezing are ideal conditions for making snowballs!
Dry snow has little to no liquid water content and is less dense with a lot of air pockets between the snow crystals. Dry snow is not sticky, so it is difficult to make snowballs. This is the kind of snow that blows around in the wind, bringing whiteout conditions on the roads.
Dry snowflakes are less likely to stick together as they fall, so you will find many more, but smaller snowflakes. This is your classic powdery snow.
As our climate warms, snow is declining in parts of the U.S., including here in North Carolina. In the winter it doesn’t get cold enough to snow very often. Instead, we see more rain or icy slushy rain…not snow.