Rimed Aspens and Snow Ghosts

Ski Santa Fe, NM, March 9, 2010

Again, as on February 10 and 12, I observed spectacular "winter wonderland" scenes associated with the phenomenon of rime ice accumulation. Rime accumulation occurs when supercooled cloud droplets freeze onto trees, wires, and other objects - basically, the phenomenon of freezing fog. "Snow ghosts" occur when rime accumulation is accompanied or followed by substantial snow accumulations. The snow sticks to the rime ice, heavily coating the trees and giving them a ghostly appearance.

On the evening of March 7, a series of thunderstorms and convective snow squalls moved over the southern Sangre de Cristo mountains. As is described and photographically documented in my "A Lot of Weather for One Day" item linked from the Winter Weather Observations page, the bases of these thunderstorms and snow squalls were low and enshrouded the mountains in the clouds (which created the rime accumulation), and the thunderstorms and snow squalls dumped 9" of snow on the Ski Santa Fe ski area Sunday night. The snow and low clouds continued in the mountains through the day Monday and into Monday evening, eventually producing a total accumulation of 17 inches at the ski area.

In the lower parts of the ski area, the aspens and conifers were nicely coated with rime, presenting a spectacular contrast with the deep blue sky after clearing occurred late Tuesday morning:

On the upper part of the mountain, where the snow was heavier and the wind stronger, the snow accumulated over the rime, creating a spectacular display of snow ghosts:

As is usually the case with an El Nino pattern, snowfall in the mountains of New Mexico has been well above average this year. As of March 10, Ski Santa Fe was reporting 126 inches of snow on the ground - that's 10 and a half feet - and just this week, the ski area has received 29 inches as of Wednesday morning, with more on the way.

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