Winter weather words


By Sophie Shields

Snow squalls, snow blizzard, snowstorm – same thing, right? That’s what I thought until a recent weather alert for “snow squalls” led me down a research rabbit hole of wintery vocabulary. And in a chilly climate like Ottawa, a word refresher might be exactly what the doctor ordered.

On any December morning, you might turn on your radio to hear CBC announce a “ground blizzard” (loose snow being blown around by strong winds) or a “snow shower,” during which snow falls for a short period. You might also be warned of a “snow squall,” a sudden intense but limited-duration snowfall, or a “blizzard,” a snowfall with winds at least 40 km/h lasting a minimum of four hours, either of which could easily lead to a “whiteout.” Then, you might look outside to spot a lawn covered with “graupels,” soft little snow pellets with the consistency of ice cream, and trees covered with “rime ice,” tiny spikes of ice created from frozen fog. Perhaps you might even spot feathery “hoar frost,” hoar being an Old English word referring to ice which looks like white hair. Or on an especially lucky day, you may even observe an “icebow” – a rainbow made of ice crystals!

But perhaps English will prove insufficient to fully capture the world outside your window. Today’s forecast might instead be perfectly described through Indigenous terms like piegnartoq (Inuktut), snow good for driving sleds, or mamaangadepon (Ojibwe), snow falling in large flakes. Or maybe a match will be found in borrowed words like gluggaveður (Icelandic), “window-weather” for exceptionally chilly days, or kramsnö (Swedish), snow perfect for making snowballs.

So, next time there is gluggaveður, try your hand at being an amateur meteorologist – what’s that outside your window? Hoar frost, kramsnö, rime ice? Take a gander and don’t think (tw)ice about it!

Sophie Shields is a Carleton student studying global literature and a proud Franco-Ukrainian. She is the social media coordinator for the Glebe Report.

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