Jan 28 2014

Nature’s Snowballs

Published by at 7:20 am under Weather & Sky

Large snow rollers, 27 Jan 2014, Dubois, PA (photo by Marianne Atkinson)

The weather was weird yesterday but it made something beautiful.

In Pennsylvania and Ohio people looked outdoors to find thousands of large snowballs dotting hillsides and open fields.  The snow rollers resembled hay bales, jellyrolls or the unstacked segments of snowmen and were so unusual that they became online sensations in social media.  They were made by the wind.

I didn’t know they’d happened until Marianne Atkinson sent me photos from her backyard in Clearfield County, PA.  I’d seen the wind make little snowballs in the Laurel Highlands so I thought I knew what she was talking about.  But no, these are special.  They’re a foot across!

Snow rollerabout a foot across (photo by Marianne Atkinson)

Snow rollers are pretty rare but yesterday morning produced the perfect weather mix…

  • With an icy layer on top of snow or the ground that new snow can’t stick to…
  • Wet, loose snow fell on the icy layer.
  • The temperature was near the melting point and…
  • The wind blew at just the right speed to start the balls rolling without destroying them.
  • The rollers stopped when they became too heavy for the wind to move.  Even so they’re often hollow and too fragile to pick up.

A quick search of the Internet found photos and video at WPXI Pittsburgh, Newsnet5 in Cleveland and NBC4 Columbus.

Thankfully the wind wasn’t strong enough to stack them into snowmen!


(photos by Marianne Atkinson)

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Nature’s Snowballs”

  1. Marianneon 28 Jan 2014 at 8:03 am

    I picked one up this morning ( at MINUS 16 degrees F) and found it to be quite solid; just like a giant snowball! 🙂

  2. Marianneon 28 Jan 2014 at 8:22 am

    They are still out there today, so if you look around, you may find some! They are not in quite as good of a condition as yesterday though.

  3. Marianneon 28 Jan 2014 at 8:32 am

    Even though the snow roller was solid, it wasn’t heavy. It was amazingly light and fluffy!

  4. Mark Madereon 28 Jan 2014 at 9:58 am

    I live in Cleveland and saw the Newsnet5 report on snow rolllers (http://www.newsnet5.com/weather/winter/snow-rollers-invade-northeast-ohio).

    Funny that my own sister – Marianne Atkinson – would have these in her own yard!

  5. Mark Madereon 28 Jan 2014 at 10:01 am

    I was travelling along I-80 from Du Bois to Cleveland yesterday and saw some of these in the median. Couldn’t quite make out what they were from a distance but this post solved the mystery.


  6. Glenda Leeon 28 Jan 2014 at 10:04 am

    Well, I do know that at some point during the overnight hours the temperature rose. My husband went back to his office during this time, around 4ish am, and confirmed that the temperature was about 37 degrees. Also, when I got up to let my dogs out the glass doors and windows in my sunroom didn’t have the frost on them that they had the night before. The moisture had sometime during the night melted and actually dripped down so that the door was frozen to the cement (it’s an aluminum storm door). So the phenomenun must have something to do with this drastic rise then drop in temperature along with the wind…. there was a lot of it. My pastures are full of snow rollers, also know as snow cylinders in Europe. They are all about a foot long but there are many of different sizes. I guess it depended on how far the wind was able to blow them. With the azure blue sky yesterday they were a wonderful photo op.

  7. Anne Marieon 28 Jan 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Note to Mark: Of course Marianne would have these in her yard, she’s on the cutting edge of all weather phenomena! 😉

  8. Grampyon 28 Jan 2014 at 8:35 pm

    Not reading the header I thought a field full of huge marshmallows.

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply