Vermont’s Winter Weather Exposed
Reprinted courtesy of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce
What is Snow?
By Vicky Parra Tebbetts
A Vermont Winter brings thrills, chills, and plenty of chances to frolic in the snow and crisp air. Inside, the four walls and hearth offer a sense of warmth, camaraderie, and coziness that’s hard to find anywhere else.
From December through March in Vermont, you can expect a daytime average temperature of 20 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. “All in all Vermont’s invigorating winter weather features plenty of snow and few serious extremes of cold,” observes Mark Breen of the popular Northern New England Weather Center at the Fairbanks Museum. The Museum houses weather records dating back to 1858, contains Vermont’s only public planetarium, and displays one of the largest natural science collections in Northern New England.
With six months of winter weather, Vermonters and visitors alike can expect the snow to fly any time from November through April. In the valleys from December through March, there are usually 50 days with some form of snow falling from the sky; in Vermont’s Green Mountains snow drifts down more frequently, approaching an average of 80 days annually during the four-month period.
Because of Vermont’s uneven elevation, it’s not unusual for the total amount of snow collected each winter to vary between the valleys (60 to 80 inches of snow on average), the hills (80 to 130 inches of snow), and the mountains (150 inches or more).
Snowflakes are actually frozen water crystals that grow into strikingly different shapes depending upon temperature, moisture, and wind as they are hurled through the atmosphere to earth below. Take a look next time the snow flies- all you need is a magnifying glass! Catch the snow on a dark piece of paper for the best contrast. While you’re looking, listen, too – it’s quieter outside after a snowfall because the fluffy flakes covering the ground are not yet compressed together, so the space between them absorbs sound.
Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley
Wilson Bentley (1865-1931) was a farmer from Jericho, Vermont, where the average snowfall is 120 inches per year. Fascinated by snowflakes from the time he was a boy, Wilson came to be known as “Snowflake” Bentley or the Snowflake Man. The Snowflake Man took his first picture of a snowflake in January of 1885, using “photomicrography,” combining a camera with a microscope. Snowflake Bentley went on to spend 47 years recording the delicate, fleeting images of over 5,000 snowflakes.
Snow is not rare in Vermont. Why would the Snowflake Man devote his life to studying snow crystals? In 1925 Snowflake Bentley wrote, “Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost.” Snowflake design holds the key to a secret, miniature world all their own.
By the turn of the century, Snowflake Bentley gained worldwide distinction for his work as he spent his life and all his resources recording snow crystals. Shortly after his book Snow Crystals was published, he died. A reprinted version of the book is still available today.
The historical society in the Snowflake Man’s native town of Jericho is the home of the Snowflake Bentley Exhibit at the historic Old Red Mill. The Mill also houses a museum, art gallery, and craft shop. The exhibit celebrates the Snowflake Man’s life and work, featuring his original camera as well as Snowflake Bentley’s one-of-a-kind snowflake prints and collectibles for sale. The nationally acclaimed CD-ROM of Snowflake Bentley’s images is also available. Some of Snowflake Bentley’s images can be viewed on the Jericho Historical Society website (www.snowflakebentley.com).
The picturesque town of Jericho is located in Chittenden County, about 13 miles or 20 minutes east of the city of Burlington. Old Red Mill hours: April-December, Monday-Saturday 10 am to 5 pm, Sunday 1 pm-5 pm; January-March, Wednesday and Saturday 10 am to 4:30 pm, Sunday 1 pm to 4:30 pm. Phone number: 802-899-3225. Admission to the Snowflake Bentley Exhibit is free.
Many thanks to Mary Tebbetts, Mark Breen of the Northern New England Weather Center at the Fairbanks Museum, and Ray Miglionico, Archivist for the Jericho Historical Society, for providing an avalanche of resources for this article.
Snowflake images taken from the Wilson Bentley Digital Archives CD-Rom courtesy of the Jericho Historical Society website (www.snowflakebentley.com).