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jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities's avatar

Is there a technical term for this phenomena? (See details).

Asked by jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities (19692points) February 20th, 2010

If you drive down a road after a fresh snow, you often see little… mist trails (?) that seem to hover just above the road surface. As other cars drive by, they seem to flow back and forth across the road. It’s actually quite pretty to look at.

Is there a correct term for this occurrence? What do you call it?

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21 Answers

Nullo's avatar

“Drifting snow” comes to mind. May also be driven, as in “pure as the driven snow.”

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

I call it swirling snow. The effect is quite hypnotic and tough to deal with at night. It can be disorienting in the dark where the lane positions and road boundaries are obscured.

Trillian's avatar

I don’t know what it’s called, but I was raised in northern Michigan, so I’m quite familiar with it. I guess that there are currents and eddies of air atop the snow keeping it from simply falling straight down.
My son postulates geothermal energy, like the thermals that hawks catch in the summer.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

I’ve always thought it was magic fairy dust;( Thanks to the jellies above,I guess it’s just “blowin’ snow….sigh

CaptainHarley's avatar

Airstream vortices.

njnyjobs's avatar

As @Nullo correctly stated, Drifting snow, is the phenomenon in which lying snow is raised from the surface of the Earth by the wind or Airstream vortices, as @CaptainHarley mentioned, to a height of less than 1.5 to 2.0 m above the surface.
Not to be confused with Blowing Snow, which is the phenomenon in which lying snow is pressured upwards highly, above 2.0 m. It dose not restrict horizontal visibility at 2.0 m or more above the surface.

jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities's avatar

Drifting snow definitely sounds like it could be right, but I’ve never seen it anywhere near as high as 1.5 or 2.0 m. It seems to only be about an inch or so above the road surface, never any higher than that. Hmm.

Googling for this has been an exercise in futility. Apparently whenever you put snow & road into a search, the only results you get are winter driving tips and road conditions. Failure.

njnyjobs's avatar

@jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities the drifting snow does occur in heights less than 1.5m. What you observe on a cold roadway con be considered as mild drifting but it still falls under this category.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar


No no… you are correct. It is magic fairy dust.

but they’re really pissed off because they’re so freakin’ cold

jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities's avatar

@njnyjobs I’m still a bit unsure about drifting snow though, because this occurrence really seems isolated to the zone just above the road. Honestly, I’m not even sure that it is snow, it seems more like a fog or mist that could have some tiny snow particles in it, or maybe none at all.

njnyjobs's avatar

@jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities I guess you will typically observe this mostly on roads because of the color contrasts (white snow over gray surface). It also occurs over lying snow that has stuck to grassy or earthen surfaces but since there is hardly any contrast, the human eye probably do not take notice. Besides, when you’re driving you are most obligated to look ahead on the road rather than observe the sidelines.

Also, you will only notice this when the road has cooled down below freezing temperature, otherwise the snowflakes will stick to the road upon contact.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I always thought it was caused by the bare road surface absorbing more heat than the snow covered ground during the day, so it melts a little of the snow and the water vapor is what comes up as the mist. But then I have never seen it at night. That kinds of throws doubt on my theory. It is kind of cool, so lets go with the pissed off fairy theory.

chyna's avatar

Hallucinogenics? ~

Trillian's avatar

Snow particles blown from the ground by the wind to a height of less than six feet.

This job at kgb_ has changed my life!

CyanoticWasp's avatar

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

@CyanoticWasp Thanks to Mr. Robert Zimmerman!

Fred931's avatar

@Trillian You work at KGB? tell your boys they have some free competition here in jelly-land.

mollypop51797's avatar

I think it’s quite pretty to look at too! With the very lightest of snow swirling around chaotically, but peacefully on the road. I would call his.. light snow being pressurized the the air of moving cars. no, I guess I would just say what everyone else is saying, drifting snow

Trillian's avatar

@Fred931 the good thing about here is that I don’t have to answer homework questions!

Strauss's avatar

~It’s magic fairy dust and special snowflakes!

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