January 8, 2014

A Seriously Cool Polar Vortex Experiment: Make Your Own ‘Snow’ With Hot Water & Cold, Cold Air!

Baby, it’s cold outside!

Thanks to the polar vortex, many Americans are experiencing temperatures that make it feel like Russian Siberia or the northernmost ice floes of Alaska or Canada.

It reached -10F in Pennsylvania late last night. Factor in gale force wind chills, and it felt more like -35F.

Upon further research, I realized my weather pattern was downright balmy when compared to the Arctic blasts making their way through Wisconsin, Illinois and International Falls, Minnesota, believed to be the coldest town in the 48 contiguous states, which felt like -60F last night.


Last night, I bundled up in jeans, snowpants, sweaters, boots, a down coat, a furry hat and two pairs of insulated mittens, wound a scarf around my face, and ventured outdoors. The snow crackled under my boots like spun glass. The utility lines creaked and twanged. Sounds coursed for miles through air that felt like a vacuum.

My motive? To take out the trash, start the car and perform a cold weather science experiment in my yard.

A few months ago, I saw a YouTube clip of a man from Novosibirsk, Siberia, tossing boiling water into the freezing cold air—and ending up with snow!

Would it work, I wondered? Would the mysterious laws of planet Earth allow something like this to happen—and would I be able to behold its effects in the relatively temperate climate where I live?

At 11pm last night, I gave it a whirl.

It did! And, I must say, Mother Nature is the coolest thing ever.

A quick internet search revealed accuweather.com had also seen the clip. According to the site, which quotes the University of California Riverside’s physics page, “hot water can freeze faster than cold water thanks to the ‘Mpemba Effect’.

Check out the aforementioned YouTube video, featuring a man the AccuWeather site notes to be Dmitry Klimensky, pouring a kettleful of hot water off his apartment balcony in Siberia.

Or this clip of a woman in Canada’s Northwest Territories tossing cupfuls of boiling water from a carafe into the air in her driveway, to the applause of onlookers,

Stuck inside and bored? Give it a try, but please, please read this first:

1) Bundle up before going out.

2) The water needs to be boiling (or near boiling) to work.

3) The temperature should be about -30 or colder for ice crystals to form.

4) Follow common sense. Do not toss the water where other people or animals might be walking. (Don’t toss it out your window, for example, if it may cause injury to somebody on the sidewalk.)

5) Be mindful of wind direction when releasing the water. You don’t want to get a scalding (or frosty) blast in the face!

6) As always, be very careful when handling hot water.


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Editor: Bryonie Wise

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