Can It Ever Be Too Cold to Snow?

iStock
iStock

by Kenny Hemphill

We all know someone who, when asked if they think it might snow on a particularly chilly day, sucks air in through his or her teeth and declares that "it's probably too cold for snow today."

Too cold for snow? It sounds like nonsense because it is nonsense. According to the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC), "while it can be too warm to snow, it cannot be too cold to snow. Snow can occur even at incredibly low temperatures as long as there is some source of moisture and some way to lift or cool the air."

There's one sliver of truth in the myth, however, in that very cold temperatures are often associated with dry air, in which you won't get snow. It's the dry air that prevents the snow, however, not the temperature.

"Most heavy snowfalls occur when there is relatively warm air near the ground—typically -9°C (15°F) or warmer," the NSIDC explains on its website, "since warmer air can hold more water vapor."

That, of course, isn't the only common misconception about the weather.

Take, for example, that old adage that lightning doesn't strike twice. In fact, the opposite is true. Lightning can and does strike twice: The Empire State Building, for example, gets hit about 100 times a year. There are some people who have been struck twice. Former Shenandoah National Park ranger (a.k.a. "Spark Ranger") Roy Sullivan, who died in 1983 (from a gunshot wound), was struck by lightning seven times. If the conditions that make lightning more likely to strike in a particular location persist, it's likely to strike there again.

For more common weather misconceptions, check out our video below.

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Why Did Noon Used to Mean 3 p.m.?

3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
Mckyartstudio/iStock via Getty Images

If you’re a late sleeper, you might find yourself thinking 12 p.m. seems way too early to be considered midday, and the word noon would much better describe, say, 3 p.m. It turns out that ancient Romans would have agreed with you, if only for etymological reasons.

As Reader’s Digest explains, the days in ancient Rome were split into four periods of three hours each. The first hour was at sunrise around 6 a.m.—called prime, for first—followed by 9 a.m. (terce, denoting the third hour), 12 p.m. (sext, for sixth), and 3 p.m. (none, for ninth).

According to Merriam-Webster, Middle and Old English borrowed the time-keeping tradition, along with the Latin word for ninth, which was changed to nōn and eventually noon. Though we’re not sure exactly when or why noon started referring to 12 p.m. instead of 3 p.m., it could have something to do with Christian prayer traditions. In the Bible, Jesus’s crucifixion is said to have taken place at the ninth hour, and that’s when worshippers partook in their second of three daily prayers; the others were in the morning and evening. It’s possible that hungry monks were behind noon’s gradual shift from 3 p.m. to 12 p.m.—since their daily fast didn’t end until after the midday prayer, they had a built-in motive for moving it earlier.

While we didn’t exactly stay true to the original Latin meaning of noon, there’s another important remnant of ancient Rome hiding in the way we tell time today. Romans referred to 12 p.m. as meridiem, for midday, and so do we. A.M. is an abbreviation for ante meridiem, or before midday, and P.M. means post meridiem, or after midday.

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