Snow — that icon of winter — blankets the land with a beautiful silence. Love it or hate it, we all depend on snow. Our year-round water supply largely comes from snowmelt.
But we're not the only ones who need snow.
Species from microscopic fungi to 800-pound-moose require it as much, if not more. They survive the winter by living in nature's igloo: snow.
And spring's profusion of flowers? They're fertilized by nutrients in snow.
If you're planning to skate on a frozen lake or river this winter, ski on a snowy slope, or, when spring arrives, depend on snowmelt to fill your reservoir, you may need to think twice.
A view of the new winter
Winter is changing, becoming less like the cold seasons we may remember. The "new winter" has consequences far beyond December-to-March. It affects spring and summer, too, including plants' flowering dates — and species such as hummingbirds that depend on precision flowering times for nectar.
In celebration of snow and winter as we know it, and in a look at what winter may be like in the future, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has launched a new special report: Let It Snow! The Science of Winter.
The report focuses on projects supported largely by NSF's Directorate for Geosciences and Directorate for Biological Sciences/Division of Environmental Biology.
Grants from these areas fund research on subjects as diverse as measuring snowfall; tracking snowstorm "bombs," as whiteouts are known in meteorology; studying animals and plants that live beneath the snow in an ecosystem called the subnivian; searching for snowmelt, or "white gold"; and the bane of winter — dust from the atmosphere that causes snow to melt before its time.
Go winter storm-chasing, enter nature's igloo
In the report, explore such topics as winter storm-chasing, a conifer tree's view of snow, life in nature's igloo, and where our winters have gone.
Watch a video of snowflakes photographed by a new high-speed camera, and another on the water that's locked in snow and ice: a zero sum game.
As you look out your window at a snow-covered landscape, or perhaps one that has been so in the past — and even if you live below the snowline — find out what scientists are learning about winter.
It matters, even if you never see a snowflake.