What’s whiter than snow?

Here in Northern Virginia we woke up to about 12 inches of it, and it looks like there is that much still in the air coming down. And we’re supposed to get another wave tonight. It’s a snow day–one of those gifts of free time that are unplanned for so are not already booked with other kinds of busyness–so it’s peaceful, with the fireplace blazing, with my mug of coffee, as I look out the back window watching the woods fill up with snow.

I know, though, that the winter storm is wreaking havoc across much of the nation. And I dread having to shovel all of this. And I hope the power lines don’t come down.

In the meantime, I am taking consolation in this: The utter purity of snow covering up all of the dirt, dead grass, and pretty much everything is a sign of what God has done with our sins:

“Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).

“Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).

Since weather is one of those great topics of conversation, how are you doing where you are? Are any of you in desperate straits, in need of prayer from the rest of us?

Why no two snowflakes are identical

As if to put us in the mood for winter, the Washington Post has a fascinating feature explaining why no two snowflakes are the same:

Newly formed snow crystals with only a handful of molecules would be nearly impossible to distinguish. But that’s not really the issue. We’re talking about real snowflakes, which have something on the order of a quintillion molecules. (That’s the number 1 with 18 zeros.)

Now, it’s not a law of nature that no two snowflakes could be truly identical. So, on a very technical level, it’s possible for two snowflakes to be identical. And it’s entirely possible that two snowflakes have been visibly indistinguishable. But probability dictates that this is incredibly unlikely. Libbrecht draws a helpful visual comparison.

“There are a limited number of ways to arrange a handful of bricks,” he says. “But if you have a lot of bricks, the number of combinations grows very quickly. With enough of them, you can make a driveway, a sidewalk or a house.”

Water molecules in a snowflake are like those bricks. As the number of building blocks increases, the number of possible combinations increases at an incredible rate.

Consider the math, which Libbrecht helps explain using a bookshelf analogy. He points out that, if you have only three books on your bookshelf, there are only six orders in which you can arrange them. (That’s 3 times 2 times 1.) If you have 15 books, there are 1.3 trillion possible arrangements. (Fifteen times 14 times 13, etc.) With 100 books, the number of combinations increases to a number that is far, far greater than the estimated number of atoms in the universe.

An ordinary snowflake has hundreds of branches ribs, and ridges, all arranged in minutely different geometries. To be sure, lots of snowflakes have fallen in the world, but not nearly enough to render two identical snowflakes a reasonable possibility.

If you’re skeptical, you’re more than welcome to undertake your own study. But you might want to block off a pretty big chunk of time. Libbrecht estimates that around a septillion — that’s a 1 with 24 zeros — snowflakes fall every year.

via Why no two snowflakes are the same – The Washington Post.

This also makes me want to re-arrange the books on my bookshelves.  I think I’ll put 15 of them on a shelf and make it my life’s work to put them in every possible order!

 

 

snowflake

Still snowed in

It snowed all day Wednesday–giving us another 10 inches or more on top of the 30 inches on the ground from the weekend–and the wind blew and blew. The National Weather Service warned us not to go outside, lest we become disoriented and get lost in the snow. It got so bad that at one point the road crews were called in, out of both danger and futility. The snow stopped in the late afternoon, but conditions are still terrible and the wind is still blowing. My school has declared a second snow day in a row, something I don’t ever recall happening, even when I lived in Wisconsin. This was the most snow the D.C. area has had in a century. And now the digging.

Snowed in yet AGAIN

It seems like only yesterday that I was enjoying the peace and serenity of being snowed in. It wasn’t yesterday; it was Saturday. But now, having barely dug out of the 25 inches of snow we had (other northern Virginians nearby had as much as 32 inches) we are in the middle of ANOTHER big snow storm. Forecasts call for 10 inches, but this one is really blowing with high winds, a true blizzard. I can hardly see across the street. This is enough. The snow can stop now. I have gone from the little cabin in the big woods to cabin fever.

Maybe the environmentalists are right, that human actions can upset the delicate balance of the climate. Only their calculations were off. Maybe all of these Priuses driving around, all of these carbon offsets, all of these carbon neutral lifestyles have not been ineffectual gestures at all, but all too effectual. Maybe that small amount of carbon dioxide they prevented going into the atmosphere was enough to tip the balance away from global warming into a new ice age. Maybe the wildlife will start evolving back to woolly mammoths. Maybe we need to be injecting large amounts of carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere in order to save the planet. The only solution I can see to do that quickly is for everyone to breathe more often. Breathe, everybody, hyperventilate, to save the planet! But not too much, lest we tip the planet back to global warming apocalypse!

Well, this is sounding like delirium, a symptom of cabin fever. Next thing you know, I’ll be chopping up the furniture for firewood and eating the family pets.

Digging out

OK, as I said before, I enjoyed getting snowed in. But I had failed to factor into my delight the necessity of shoveling off our driveway. When we moved down South, I let my snowblower go with the house in Wisconsin. Our driveway is about 130 feet long and 10 feet wide, and we had 2 feet of snow. Multiply that out and it comes to 2600 cubic feet of snow that had to be removed. An internet search revealed that a cubic foot of normal snow weights about 15 pounds. So that comes to 39,000 pounds of the white fluffy stuff. That’s 19.5 tons. Call it 20 (or more) since the driveway is wider when it cuts over to the garage. We had to move 20 tons of snow to get the car out! Coal miners in the Merl Travis/Tennessee Ernie Ford song only had to dig 16 tons! And a ton of snow weighs just as much as a ton of coal. I say “we,” but, while I took a couple turns, my son-in-law did virtually all of that work. That’s another good reason to have one.


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