Science of Snow: Shaving Cream & Baking Soda Snow

Science of Snow: Shaving Cream & Baking Soda Snow

Discovery Place

In celebration of World Snow Day on January 15, 2023, let it snow!

Well sometimes, especially recently, it doesn’t snow. Our climate (or average temperature trend) is warming, so more snow falls as rain. As winters lose their cool, it’s just too warm for powdery snow. Instead, in Charlotte, we often get icy or slushy rain.

Science of Snow 1

However, winter tourism sites like ski resorts depend on snow for their livelihood. You can’t ski without snow! Ski resorts often take advantage of any cold window they can get to make their own wintry white.  

Let’s pretend we own a ski resort and need to make snow. But we’re going to use different combinations of shaving cream, baking soda and water to test different types of snow. Ski resorts definitely don’t use these ingredients…but this is a fun snow science experiment you can do right in your kitchen!

Age range: Elementary, Middle School
Prep time: 5-10 minutes
Learning time: 15 minutes 

Materials:

  • 2 bowls
  • 1 mixing stick (like a spoon or popsicle stick)
  • About 1/2 cup of shaving cream
  • About 1/2 cup of baking soda
  • Water
  • Paper towels for the clean up

Experiment:

  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 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. How does it feel? Do you think it’s wet snow or dry snow? Is this good for making snowballs or skiing? Reflect on the challenges ski resorts face when they must make their own winter snow!
Snow Observation Checklist

Snow Science

Not all snow is created equal. Every single snowflake has its own dendrite pattern. No two snowflakes look alike!

Every type of snowstorm also has different moisture content. One inch of liquid rain doesn’t equal one inch of snow.

In fact, on average, most snowstorms drop 10 inches of snow for every inch of liquid rain! We call this a snow ratio. Snow ratios change depending on how soaking wet or Arctic dry a snowstorm is.

Wet snow is snow that has a high liquid content. It gets this liquid content by partially melting before it hits the ground. The wetness of the snowflakes makes it easier for them to stick together as they fall.

So, wet snow will often have few, but very large snowflakes. When you have wet snow and temperatures below freezing, making snowballs is easiest!

Dry snow has little to no liquid water content, so it is less dense than average. Less density means there will be 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. Since dry snowflakes are less sticky, they are less likely to stick together as they fall, so you will find many more, but smaller snowflakes. This is your classic powdery snow.

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As our climate warms, snow is declining in parts of the U.S., including in North Carolina. It doesn’t get cold enough to snow as often. Instead, in the winter we get more liquid rain or icy slushy rain…not snow.

But keep hope alive! Charlotte often gets snow in February and March. In fact, March 2 is historically the snowiest day of the year for our region!