Snow Bubbles--a mystery!

This picture of snow bubbles is from Montana

Given the arctic cold snap in parts of Texas right now (12° in Amarillo as I write this!), a recent viewer message with the above picture arrived in my Instagram yesterday. Olson writes “My sister lives in northeastern Montana and it is -30 there. These bubbles in the snow happened between this morning and this afternoon and she has never seen anything like that before....she went out and poked them and they are hollow. Any ideas?”

Here is the full picture:

What caused these snow bubbles on the ground?

First Olson, please tell your sister I am sorry it is -30°!! No one should have to suffer that!

I can tell you that this is a hard one to solve but my first guess is that the winds would have to be very calm for bubbles like this to develop and not blow away. Further, some kind of melting would likely occur as the snow falls to the ground and then a quick-refreeze would happen.

At least one answer comes from my colleague, meteorologist Chris Michaels, at our sister station in Roanoke, Virginia WSLS. Back in 2019, the Roanoke Valley had 2-6″ of snow and a similar phenomenon occurred. Here are several of his viewer’s pics of snow bubbles:

Roanoke, VA courtesy WSLS-TV

Chris found the subject intriguing as well and reached out to several other weather folks for their opinion on how these might form. While just an educated guess, Chris came up with the following:

As the snow fell and accumulated, the warmth of the ground caused it to melt into water. However, shortly after the snow, we had freezing rain and sleet. As that ice laid over the snow, the melted bubbles became trapped beneath the layer of ice/slush.

Of course, this is a bit different situation in Montana but the same differences of a warmer ground may have been the underlying reason for the snow bubbles. Looking at the bubbles in Montana, they are on what looks to be a driveway, so perhaps a warmer surface if just slightly. You can see Chris’ full article from Roanoke right here. And if you have any ideas of your own, feel free to email me!

Snow Here?

You’ve noticed how cold we’ve gotten today and we’ll continue to see temperatures fall. Winter Weather Advisories have popped up from the Austin area to Dallas and north Texas for Freezing Rain. The Houston National Weather Service advises that some minor icing is possible on exposed surfaces through tomorrow morning well west of Houston, generally from the La Grange to Brenham to College Station corridor:

from the Houston National Weather Service

I guess in the end we should blame the Trail Riders?! Seriously, be safe out there and stay warm!


About the Author:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with three decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.