The air smells like snow today — not surprising, according to the latest weather forecast which predicts up to 4″ of the white stuff before it changes to rain. Do you know that smell? When the air actually feels heavier as you breathe it — not wet, as it does before and after a rain storm, but heavy with frost and crystals and sharp cold. It’s a distinctly different smell that I can never put a finger on, one that is best described as feeling like “bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens”, perhaps? One that conjures up memories of red toboggans and Christmas mornings. A smell that, if you close your eyes, can whisk you off to childhood for one fleeting moment. That smell is in the air today.
Curious about such things, I googled “the smell of snow” and came up with a few interesting, scientific tidbits. On AllExperts.com, this question and answer by meteorological expert, Donald Rosenthal:
I can smell approaching snow on the wind. Why does crystallized water have a smell? I grew up in Maryland, spent two years in Colorado, and currently live in Northern California, and in each of these areas, the approaching snow has virtually the same odor . . . But what causes it?
You have a good sense of smell!
Some of the chemicals that can be in snow are:
Nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, nitric acid, dimethyl sulphide and sulphate and methanesulphonate. All of these have distinctive odors and the combination is probably what you smell.
Interesting, isn’t it? But truly, I think “the smell of snow” comes from our memories, like the smell of a new box of Crayons can transport me back to first grade with one inhalation. Or the way the first wisps of woodsmoke on a frosty evening signal the start of colder weather. Or how baking bread produces an aroma that incites contentment.
As darkness falls, the air smells like snow — copper kettley, woollen mitteny, red toboggany snow.