The Smell of Snow

The smell of snow...A frosty morning captured on a neighbouring farm a few years ago

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:

Question

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?

Answer

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.

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Author: nancybond

A writer, photographer, naturalist from small town Nova Scotia, Canada.

27 thoughts on “The Smell of Snow”

  1. I’ve been accused of being slightly mad when I’ve said it smells like it’s going to snow. Nice to know I’m in good company. Fortunately today it just smells like a nice fall day.

    1. hon I too can smell snow just ask herself what else did you know was going to happen before it did this has been happening to me my my whole life ????

  2. It’s bitter cold here today, and when OFB came in from walking Shiloh this morning, I said, “You smell like cold.” “Say what?!” He just didn’t get it, but I could smell the cold on him, just like smelling snow…

  3. I love the smell and I love your photo. We don’t get that much snow but I love the icy smell in the air in winter.

  4. I love the smell, and the feeling of the air, and the look of the sky as snow approaches. It is the most magical of all weathers to me. That feeling when I wake up in the morning and see a different sort of light coming in the windows (I don’t have curtains). Ah, winter!

  5. Nancy, I love that crisp cold smell! It’s delicious and always makes me feel like smiling and often takes me back in time! gail

  6. Clear and crisp in North Carolina tonight, but both my daughter and I said ‘it smells like snow’ – even if others say snow doesn’t have a smell. Thanks for sharing your thoughts (and research).

  7. This is one of my favorite reasons for following blogs from other climates. I get to experience things that do not occur here too often through your photos and words.

    The snow is just beautiful! Now, I have been in the snow numerous times, but do not recall that it has a distinctive smell. I will have to check it out next I go up to the snow.

  8. Yes Nancy, Yes!

    I can smell snow too – although, as we don’t get a lot of snow here if someone says to me “do you think its going to snow?” they do look quite puzzled when I sniff the air and say, “No it doesn’t smell as if its going to snow”
    K

  9. I don’t know that I can smell snow ~ or maybe I just try to “block” it! lol I certainly know the look of the sky when it’s going to snow tho and I’m never ready….

  10. A perfectly delightful post, dear. Scents bring up such wonderful memories. In addition to snow in the air – which we rarely smell here – you mention some of my favorites, such as woodsmoke. Another is my mom’s homemade fudge – nobody’s fudge smells like hers. When it’s in the air I’m transported to a simpler, more innocent time, happy in my mom’s kitchen as she gives me samples. Thanks, dear, for the memories.

  11. Interesting post, Nancy, and a beautiful photo. I do believe I can smell snow in the air also or maybe only wishful thinking :) But (sigh) I find it hard to believe that it’s that time of year again, especially since we have been blessed these past 2 days with Indian Summer.

  12. I also believe I can smell snow (and rain, for that matter). Snow to me has a low, metallic smell… like sleigh bells? Perhaps a wine expert would have language to describe it. I’m always amazed at what they can detect in a glass of wine. Perhaps your warm mitteny scent!

  13. Snowing as I type this (Boston). Snow is my favorite weather, too. It has a dense fresh scent to it that evokes memories of home and warmth (ironically). My desk is facing the window, which doesn’t have any curtains either. It’s quite beautiful out there.

  14. Hello Fellow Snow Sniffer! I can smell snow as well. I was on the way to pharmacy and thinking, gee – it smells like snow. I walked in and a women working there says to another girl “Wow – It smells like snow”. I was like wow – you can smell snow too. She started laughing and said everything thinks she’s crazy when she says it. I told her me too. She was the first person I ever met that could smell snow too. Your description of it is best – copper kettle and snowed on winter mittens. No one esle gets it :>.

  15. i’m glad i’m not the only one! been thinking i was nuts. i’ve always been able to smell snow, sometimes when it’s not even present! i live in a desert valley surrounded by a few large mountain ranges. we never get snow, but the mountains sure do. maybe it’s like that one person said in the Q&A – that the cold air just drifts down and carries with it all the chemicals that are in snowy air.

  16. I can smell snow too, or really the smell of the air before a snowfall, and I’m glad other people have noticed it. It’s a pleasant smell, and it’s very distinctive, though it’s hard to describe. Like ‘ourfriendben’ described, I’ve also noticed the smell of cold air when somebody who’s been outside comes back in the house, and they’re briefly enveloped in a cloud of cold air. Heat has a smell too, when you turn up the heat in the house. Glad it’s not just me!

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