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Does it ever get too cold to snow?

Some of the lowest temperatures in recent memory are on the way. [CHRISTOPHER MILLETTE/ERIE TIMES-NEWS]
By Sarah Grabski sarah.grabski@timesnews.com
Posted: Jan. 29, 2019 12:04 pm Updated: Jan. 29, 2019 12:06 pm

“It’s too cold to snow.”

It’s a statement that’s been made many times, often passing unchallenged and into accepted truth by way of repetition.

But is it true? Can temperatures as low as those in the forecast this week — or even lower — eliminate the chance of snowfall?

The short answer is “no.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, two things must be present for snow to fall:

1. moist surface air rising into the atmosphere to form snow clouds, and

2. surface temperatures low enough that the precipitation will fall as snow.

When the surface temperatures drop to single-digit and below-zero temperatures, the air becomes very dry and generally does not rise. This decreases the likelihood that snow will fall when the surface temperature is very low.

“It rarely snows when the temperature drops below zero degrees Fahrenheit because the atmosphere is too stable,” according to NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory.

However, there are exceptions.

It is possible for air to rise if the air above it in the atmosphere is drier. “The temperature higher in the atmosphere can be much warmer than the air temperature at the surface, and that warm air aloft can hold more moist air than the colder air at the surface,” according to NOAA.

So, can it snow when the temperature is in the single digits or below? Yes.

According to AccuWeather, “Only at absolute zero (equivalent to –273.15°C or –459.67°F) would snow become impossible.”

Along, AccuWeather points out, with everything else.

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