Snow Means Cold
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(permanent link) added: 2010-02-19 13:20:47 sponsor: rjung (last reply: 2010-02-19 15:23:55)

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A popular misconception in fictional works is that snow is a direct result of cold temperature. The train of thought is that snow falls when the temperature is cold, so when the temperature is very cold there should be lots of snow, right? [[hottip:*:Wrong.]]

In reality, the amount of snow that falls is dependent on how much water vapor is in the atmosphere (humidity). If the air is arid, snowfall will never occur no matter how chilly it gets, because there is no water vapor to form snow in the first place. Conversely, if the air is humid, then the same amount of snow will fall whether the temperature is barely below freezing or near absolute zero. This is why cloud seeding is sometimes used to induce snow at ski resorts, by increasing the humidity in the area.

In fiction, this trope usually appears in one of two ways:

  1. An area with moderate or warm climate experiences a sharp drop in temperature, whereupon it gets hit with a sudden appearance of snow, such as a blizzard with gale-force winds. If the Big Bad uses his Weather Control Machine to chill the planet, expect to see a snow-draped desert complete with icicle-encrusted cacti. [[hottip:*:Note that snow can fall in deserts, but only if they're in humid, high-elevation areas.]]

  2. Snowfall is used as a visual indicator of how cold something is. This typically happens for comedic effect, such as a Funny Animal opening a refrigerator door and getting blasted by a flurry of snow. If the temperature drops further, the amount of snow will increase accordingly.

To summarize: The relationship between cold temperature and snowfall is indirect at best, but gets oversimplified to "amount of snow = amount of coldness" in fictional works.

A form of You Fail Physics Meteorology Forever. Also see Freeze Ray, Hollywood Science, Weather Dissonance, and Instant Ice, Just Add Cold.


Examples:

  • Nearly every occurrence of Batman villain Mr. Freeze ever. If he's generating sub-zero temperatures, expect lots of snow and ice to instantly appear, even if it's in the middle of the Atacama Desert or the vacuum of outer space.
  • The original Transformers cartoon episode "Fire In the Sky" begins with the Decepticons tapping the Earth's geothermal energy and making the entire planet cold. The Autobots become suspicious when it begins snowing in July at their desert base.
  • This is a popular "argument" against global warming by climate change deniers -- "If global warming is happening, why is there lots of snow at <X>?" In reality, the record snowfall occurs due to the high humidity, which occurs because global warming is increasing evaporation of the Earth's oceans and ice packs.
  • Averted in The Incredibles; Frozone can't generate ice in a burning building because of the lack of humidity.
    • Of course, in normal conditions, he's able to summon impressive amounts of ice from thin air; possibly justified as he lives in a coastal city.
  • Subverted in Real Life by Antarctica. While there is a lot of snow on the ground, very little falls in a given year due to the low humidity (0.03% average).
  • In the G.I. Joe miniseries "The Revenge of Cobra", the Joes attack Cobra's desert base to stop the villains from using their rebuilt Weather Dominator. Among Destro's weather attacks is an instant snowstorm.
  • On General Hospital, Mikkos Cassadine used "carbonic snow" to instantly create a blizzard in Port Charles during the middle of a long hot summer.
  • In a flashback on Heroes, Alice Shaw makes it snow in the desert as a test of her weather-manipulation powers.
  • In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episode "Take Me To Your Leader," Shredder and Krang use a Solar Siphon to drain the sun's energy and make the Earth cold. The turtles discover something's amiss when it starts snowing in July.
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