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Gripes and Graupel

On a new type of snow and choosing to suffer

· short post,weather,prose,3 minute read,Iceland

Sunshine, rain, and unseasonably warm temperatures have pushed winter from the minds of those in the city. What’s more, the frequent earthquakes and ever-present threat of an eruption have distracted from winter’s early departure.

Today though, on March 10th 2021, it returned with a vengeance.

Snow blasts sideways and the sky and sea are enveloped in grey cloud, sapping colour from streets and rooftops. It’s the sort of cold, unsticky snow which forms in neat balls and doesn’t so much as land as skate temporarily on the surface, only to be chased up again by a gust of wind or the kick of a boot. These balls don’t form drifts, and instead are pushed together by the wind into formations more like puddles, touching down in cracks and hollows and ready to be relocated at the storm’s merest whim.

It’s the sort of cold windy snowy day when to walk would seem the height of foolishness, or at least of self-induced suffering. There are so few people walking, one rarely has to look up from the pavement. And indeed, to look up would be to expose your cheeks to the full force of the icy wind.

I finally have access to a car again and the normal thing to do would be to drive. But, despite my better judgements, I tog up, rescue my fake fur, ear-flappy hat from the top shelf of the cupboard, and trudge to the library, all the way cursing my strange penchant for suffering. To have the option not to suffer in winter’s return, and to choose instead to feel it more keenly, and not to insulate myself in metal and machinery, seems completely daft, and yet, also, bizarrely a strangely satisfying sacrifice. If we don’t notice and experience these changes in climate and environment—physically, bodily—as well as from the window of a house or vehicle, then the change in seasons will seem even less distinct than it already does, in an era when winters are milder and wetter every year. We will merely continue to plod along while the planet rotates and no one even notices its turning.

On my short walk through the ice and snow, I not only noticed the snow sweeping in waves across Tjörninn, Reykjavík’s downtown pond, but noticed how unlike normal flakes they are, and that though they land on the ground, they don’t clump together, more congregate loosely as if pretending they don’t really know each other and just happen to be hanging out together on this Vesturbær street corner.

Brief note on the snow:

This brief walk taught me some more about meteorology and the endlessly fascinating variety of snow types. A brief google reveals that this particular type of polysterene-ball-resembling snow is known as graupel, and forms when snow flakes or ice crystals collect water droplets in the atmosphere, which then freeze at an extremely fast rate. These rimed snowflakes are common in winter storms (such as we’re currently in) and their instability—snow, water and ice only loosely sticking together—seems to reflect something of the chaos of the storm.

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Graupel congregating.

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And again.

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A mirky Hallgrímskirkja from the window of Landsbóksafnið.

Copyright © Jack Threlfall Hartley 2021