Nature’s Snowballs

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

28 January 2014

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 the snow that new snow couldn’t stick to …
  • Wet, loose snow fell on top of 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 them.  Even so they’re often hollow and too fragile to pick up.

Look quickly! The weather will warm up soon. These delicate wonders will collapse as they melt.

(photos by Marianne Atkinson)

8 thoughts on “Nature’s Snowballs

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

  2. 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. 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.


  4. 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.

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *