The Eleven Types of Snow

There’s a (wrong) saying out there that the Inuit have a hundred words for snow. They don’t (and for a full explanation, see here), but having lived in Maine for 15 years now, and cleaned up after plenty of snow storms, I can testify that there really are many, many different types of snow. Scientifically, it comes down to what temperature it is when the snow comes down, but when you’re trying to shovel or blow it out of your driveway, you don’t care about any of that. You just care about how long it takes.

So I thought I’d take a minute to codify the different types of snow I have dealt with. (Hey. It’s Friday. You got anything better you’re doing?) Ready?

  1. Dusting: Sometimes you just don’t get enough snow to do anything with it at all. It’s not really snow, but people farther south seem to think it is. If making a snowman ends up with your lawn bare and your snowman covered in grass and leaves, then you had something closer to a dusting than a real snow storm. For me, anything an inch or less is pretty much this. Chances are, I won’t even bother snow blowing my driveway, though I’ll likely make sure my steps are shoveled.
  2. Powder: This is probably snow in its purest form. No taint from rain at all. All it’s good for is looking pretty and being fun to ski or snowmobile through. It’s light. It’s fluffy. It doesn’t pack down into anything, so good luck having snowball fights or making a snowman. You could make a killer snow angel, however. The best news is that it’s really easy to shovel.
  3. Snowman Snow: This is my personal ideal form of snow. It’s not soggy by any stretch, but it’s got enough moisture in it that you can pack it down with very little effort, and it keeps its shape. Great for snowmen and snowball fights and snow forts and anything else you might want to do out in the white stuff. This is the journeyman form of snow.
  4. Concrete Snow: When the white stuff gets a little carried away, it turns into an almost solid mass of dense material. It weighs a ton. It’s hard to walk through. It’s a killer to shovel. The one plus is it can make snowmen, but it’s really hard to get it done.
  5. Sleet: Pretty much worthless. It’s not hail, but it’s generally frozen rain drops that hit the ground as tiny pellets. You can’t do anything with it. It’s probably going to melt soon after it’s fallen. It doesn’t look pretty. The only thing that can be said for it is that it’s better than freezing rain.
  6. Freezing Rain: Yuck. That’s pretty much all this is. It may look gorgeous after it’s done (all the trees coated in crystal), but it weighs down tree limbs, causes power outages, makes for deadly driving, and just is nasty in general. You can’t do anything fun in it, and it will cause way more trouble than anything else. And besides: it’s not snow. It’s rain pretending to be snow.
  7. Hail: This is not snow. It might look white and cover the ground, but that’s the only relation it has to the real thing. It’s also dangerous. Bad.
  8. Slush: This is what I took off my driveway today. We got four inches of snow in the night, and then it rained on top of that. It’s like someone dumped a huge half-melted icee in your driveway, and then you have to clean it up. You get drenched, it looks muddy and yucky, and it’s no fun at all.
  9. Old Snow: When snow first comes down form the sky, it can be very pretty. White. Pure. Fun. But after it’s been on the ground for a while, the snow changes. It gets hard. Bitter. Gray. It mixes with dirt and salt and who knows what. It’s slow to melt, so it hangs on like grim death. This is usually what you end up with at the end of each season.
  10. Bad Snow: This can really be any type of snow, but it’s what happens when it snows and you don’t want it to be doing that. Typically, I love snow. I want it to snow. But every now and then, I have to drive somewhere, or I have to get something done, and snow is a real pain. True, for some people all snow is bad snow, but if you live in a place where it snows regularly, my advice would be to try to get into the mindset that’s most likely to minimize the bad snow in your life. For me, that meant getting a snow blower and snow tires for my car. The more you struggle to clean up the snow or drive through it, the more bad snow there will be in your life. Bad snow = bad.
  11. Yellow Snow: Undoubtedly the Worst Kind of Snow. I don’t think I need to add any more to that.

So those are the types of snow I can think of, but I’m betting I’m missing some. Any suggestions for things to be added to the list?


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