IN addition to the actual fall of snow, hail, &c., there is on Ben Nevis a form of solid precipitation scarcely known on lower ground, but of almost daily occurrence here. In ordinary weather the top of the hill is enveloped in drifting fog, and when the temperature of the air and ground is below freezing this fog deposits small crystalline particles of ice on every surface that obstructs its passage. These particles on a wall or large sloping surface, so well described in a recent letter in NATURE (vol. xxxi, p. 216), combine to form long feathery crystals; but on a post or similar small body they take a shape more like fir-cones, with the point to windward. Whether this deposition is from the vapour of the fog directly or from actual particles of frozen water carried along in it is not very clear. The forms and arrangements of the crystals vary according to the form of the surface to which they adhere, but all belong to this feathery or cone type, the branches lying at an angle of 30° with the main axis pointing to windward. They are formed wherever the wind blows past an obstructing body. On a flat board they gather first and most abundantly near its edges, forming a most beautiful border around it; while the centre, which I suppose the wind does not directly reach, remains clear. A round post, on the contrary, has an almost uniform crop of these crystals all over its windward half, and so accurately do they point to windward that it is possible to trace changes in the direction of the wind from the successive layers of crystals lying at different angles. The rate of growth varies with the density of the fog and the speed of the wind, but for the ordinary winds and fogs of this exposed position about half an inch per hour may be taken as a rough average. I have never seen it exceed two inches per hour. If there is a damp feeling in the air, if in fact it is mist that is passing rather than fog, the crystals are icy and hard; but when the temperature is well below freezing and the fog feels comparatively dry, they are looser in texture, seem when first formed to be attached by a mere point to whatever they are on, and are pretty easily knocked off. There is practically no limit to their growth; last winter during a long continuance of strong south-westerly winds and cold weather a post 4 inches square grew into a slab of snow some 5 feet broad and I foot thick in less than a week, the crystalline mass then fell off by its own weight and a new set began to form.
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OMOND, R. On the Formation of Snow Crystals from Fog on Ben Nevis . Nature 31, 532–533 (1885). https://doi.org/10.1038/031532a0