The weather has been pretty weird around Montreal the last day or so. At least I’m told that it’s weird. The grocery store stopped delivering because of the cold, my morning workout was canceled due to snow, and I keep hearing about weather warnings. The particular strange type of precipitation that’s going on outside right now reminded me about a conversation I had with someone the other day about all the different types of snow. I may not have as many words for it as the Inuit (assuming the rumours are true) but it’s more than one.

  • Fluffy: This is the typical, nice, romantic type snow that comes down in snowflakes the size of your fist. It looks very good on television, and from indoors sitting in front of a fireplace.
  • Sticky: The stuff snowballs are made from. Fluffy snow is useless for anything other than kicking it around like cotton balls. It’s sticky snow that’s the best to play in. You can grab a handful and find a snowball in your hand, and it makes elaborate Calvin and Hobbes style snowscapes possible.
  • Granular: This is the weird stuff I walked through today to get groceries. It was basically hailing out rather than snow, but it had been going on for so long that the snow on the ground had quite a thick layer of it. It was like walking through really coarse sand.
  • Invisible: Usually the first few snowfalls of the season are nothing but invisible snow. Or maybe phantom snow would be a better name. You can see it falling, but it doesn’t stick, disappearing the instant it hits the ground. It barely counts as snowing at all.
  • Skeletal: Where invisible snow is the first stuff you see, skeletal snow is the last. Snow on the ground never melts uniformly. All sorts of factors come into play, I’m sure, like air pockets and dirt on the surface. The effect is that the snowbanks decay from the inside out in places, making strange tunnels and passage. The formerly smooth surface gives way to a crystalline structure with dusty spires and icy caves.

And, my personal favourite,

  • Crusty: I think this is caused by the snow changing to freezing rain. You can a nice thick crust on top of the snow that, if you’re very careful, you can walk on without breaking. Or, if it does break, it makes a big satisfying cracking noise and you fall into the softer stuff beneath. If you pick up a slice of the crust, it’ll usually have fluffy snow stuck to the underside of it. It’s better than breaking the crust of a crème brûlée.

This is sticking to the natural stuff, i.e., not brown, yellow, or the firm compact stuff in the middle of sidewalks. I’m sure there are others as well, and there can definitely be combos. Today there’s about a half inch of black ice on the sidewalks (which really makes it grey ice, I guess), a layer of the soft and fluffy, topped off with the granular stuff from today’s hail. The black ice/fluffy combination is particularly dastardly, since one false step will send you flying and you’ll never see it coming.

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