Let it snow!February 20, 2012
Large parts of England have recently had their first real snow this winter. With several centimetres of snow still lying on the ground, we thought it time to take a look at words relating to snowy or wintry weather.
Like rain, snow can be light or heavy. When it comes from the sky, it falls or comes down. Each of the tiny pieces that falls is a snowflake. When the snow stays on the ground and does not melt, we say it settles. On the ground, it forms a covering. If the covering is thick, we may call it a blanket of snow. If it is a very thin layer of snow, we sometimes call it a dusting: a light dusting of snow. The word snowfall is used especially to talk about how much snow falls: Heavy snowfalls are expected tonight and tomorrow.
When a lot of snow falls during a storm, we talk about a snowstorm. If that snowstorm is extreme, we may describe it as a blizzard, especially if the wind is very strong. During a blizzard, there may be so much snow and cloud that we cannot see properly. This set of conditions is called a whiteout. Light snow that falls suddenly and is blown in different directions by the wind is often referred to as a flurry: The forecast said it was going to be a very cold day with snow flurries in the east.
When a strong wind blows snow into a pile, we say the snow drifts. A pile of snow which has been blown in this way is a drift or a snowdrift.
We also use words to describe the quality of snow. Powdery snow is snow that has just fallen and is dry and loose. Less appealingly, snow lying on the ground that has begun to melt (or thaw) is slushy: The snow on the roads was slushy and grey. The noun slush is also used. Snow that is wet when it falls – a mixture of snow and rain – is called sleet. On the weather forecast, sleet is sometimes referred to as wintry showers.
If there is so much snow that people cannot get out of their house, they are snowed in. Children who cannot go to school because heavy snow has caused their school to shut may enjoy a snow day. They might use that day to build a snowman or have a snowball fight (= throwing balls of snow at each other). They may even form snow angels by lying on their backs in the snow and moving their arms and legs in and out. (The shape left in the snow should look like an angel!). If they live near a hill, they may be out sledging or tobogganing (= travelling over snow while sitting on a sledge or toboggan). Of course, if they’re lucky enough to live near mountains, they may go skiing or snowboarding. Mountains that have snow on the top of them are often described as snow-capped.
Of course, not everyone likes snow. While some people look out of their window in the morning at the new-fallen snow and see a winter wonderland (= a beautiful snowy scene), others see freezing temperatures, travel problems and general misery. What about you?