Southern Manitobans have been treated to beautiful scenes since the weekend as hoar frost turned the outdoors into a winter wonderland.
Environment Canada Senior Climatologist David Phillips compares the frost to “snowflakes attached together.”
“It’s a kind of feathery frost,” he said. “It’s light, it’s picturesque, I mean, it’s a photographer’s landscape.”
Phillips says hoar frost forms only when humidity is introduced to precise weather conditions; cold air, little to no wind, and clear skies. The moisture can come from a water source, such as a river or lake, or a weather system. The humidity freezes quickly, creating the frost that clings to every surface it can.
“With hoar frost, you skip that stage of the water,” Phillips said. “You go directly from water vapour to solid ice.”
The resulting ice crystals have air trapped inside, which Phillips says gives them a “silvery, opaque look.”
When moisture has time to turn to water before freezing, it can create rime ice. Rime ice is heavier and can damage trees and plants. It forms when temperatures drop as the moisture arrives, whereas when hoar frost forms, the air is already cold.
“It has more geometry to it than that sort of glaze that hides all the misery under it,” Phillips said.
Hoar frost is especially exciting for Barret Miller, Manager of Group Services at Fort Whyte Alive.
“It’s beautiful,” he said. “Snow does neat things to the landscape in terms of bouncing the light around and changing colour and shadow.”
Miller says hoar frost isn’t uncommon in Manitoba, but the length of time this bout of frost has stuck around is unusual.
“We’ve been very lucky. We’ve been on the edge of a few storm systems that have brought humidity in,” he said.
Miller says although hoar frost looks striking, it’s a harmless phenomenon for plants and animals in Manitoba’s climate.
“It’s no warmer or colder or more dangerous for an animal that’s active in the wintertime than just the air temperature alone,” he said.
Miller encourages people to get out and enjoy the natural beauty of the hoar frost while it lasts.
“I’ve heard a few people today say, ‘Oh, it looks like a painting,’” he said. “No, the paintings look like this. Because this is so pretty, that’s why people are inspired to paint and photograph these landscapes. You’re lucky to see it for real right now.”
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