Burning snow, what is really happening?

What is really happening in these viral videos of burning snow? Nothing sinister at all.

This is a myth that scientists and more recently meteorologists have tried to melt away for years.

If you have not seen the videos, a person holds some snow while holding a lighter to it and you watch as now water drips off the snow and the it slowly turns black.

Many people say it's burning, but this is not at all what is happening.

It all comes from the lighter.

The butane or lighter fluid in the lighter (or solid fuel on the end of a match) gives off soot that collects on the snowball and creates the black film on the surface.

You can even try this yourself, hold a lighter up to glass and watch the soot collect and turn the glass black.

If you hold the lighter further away from the snowball, the snow stays white and continues to melt which brings me to my next point.

This collection of chemicals in a large quantity in such a small area also can give off the pungent smell many people say they are experiencing.

Why does the snow look like it is not melting?

Well, it is melting.

The structure of the snow and the flakes actually, for lack of a better word, wicks away the water back into the snowball structure.

Try this, do this same test with an ice cube and watch it melt, you will see the liquid water.

Why? Because the ice cube is solid and the liquid has no where else to go.

Yes the ice will turn black, again that is the soot collecting.

Another process that may be melting the snow in many cases without visible signs is sublimation, a process of the water cycle where a solid goes directly to being a gas without going through the liquid phase first.

Sublimation requires a lot of heat, and with a hot flame in such close proximity to snow that is close to the freezing mark already, there is plenty of excess heat to go around.

It all comes down to this, there is nothing sinister happening here, just some basic science in an experiment that has been around for many, many years and has recently found its way back into the spotlight.

If you have any questions feel free to send me an email to!

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