Why Does Snow Burn?



Snow is a beautiful and fascinating natural phenomenon that many of us enjoy during the winter season. However, have you ever wondered why snow sometimes appears to be on fire? In this article, we will explore the science behind why snow can burn and the various factors that contribute to this phenomenon.

The Composition of Snow:

Snow is composed of ice crystals that form when water vapor freezes in the atmosphere. These ice crystals combine to create the fluffy, white substance we know as snow. But what makes snow flammable?

The flammability of snow is not due to the ice crystals themselves but rather the impurities present within the snow. Snowflakes are like tiny sponges that absorb various substances from the environment, such as pollutants, dirt, and even microscopic particles of soot.

Impurities in Snow:

The presence of impurities in snow greatly affects its flammability. The most common impurity found in snow is soot, which is produced by incomplete combustion of organic matter, such as fossil fuels or wood. Soot particles can attach themselves to snowflakes, creating a blackened appearance and increasing the likelihood of snow combustion.

Other impurities, such as pollutants and chemicals, can also contribute to the flammability of snow. For example, certain types of air pollution, like smog, can react with snow and increase its combustibility.

The Science Behind Snow Combustion:

Now that we understand the impurities present in snow, let’s delve into the science behind snow combustion.

Heat Absorption:

When sunlight or another source of heat reaches the surface of snow, the white color of the snow reflects much of the heat back into the atmosphere. However, the impurities within the snow, particularly the dark-colored soot particles, absorb the heat instead of reflecting it.

This heat absorption causes the temperature of the snow to rise, leading to the melting of the ice crystals. As the snow melts, it becomes more compact, allowing the impurities to mix more evenly throughout the snow, further increasing its flammability.

Chemical Reactions:

Once the snow reaches a certain temperature, the impurities within it can undergo chemical reactions that contribute to snow combustion. For example, soot particles can react with oxygen in the air, producing carbon dioxide and water vapor, as well as releasing heat.

These chemical reactions create a feedback loop, where the heat released from the initial combustion further raises the temperature of the snow, causing more impurities to combust. This self-sustaining process can result in a snow flame that appears to be burning.

Factors Affecting Snow Combustion:

Several factors can influence the likelihood and intensity of snow combustion. Let’s examine some of these factors:


The temperature at which snow can combust varies depending on the impurities present. Generally, snow combustion is more likely to occur when temperatures are slightly above freezing, as the impurities can melt and react more readily.


Humidity plays a role in snow combustion by affecting the availability of moisture within the snow. Dry snow with low humidity is more susceptible to combustion since there is less moisture available to counteract the heat generated.


Wind can also influence snow combustion by supplying oxygen to the flames. Strong winds can fan the flames, increasing the intensity of snow combustion.


At higher altitudes, the air is thinner, which can affect the combustion process. The reduced oxygen levels at higher altitudes may hinder or alter the combustion of impurities within the snow.

Preventing Snow Combustion:

While snow combustion may be a fascinating natural phenomenon, it can also pose risks, especially in areas with high levels of impurities. Here are some ways to prevent snow combustion:

Avoid Burning Materials Near Snow:

It is important to avoid burning materials, such as wood or garbage, near snow-covered areas, as this can increase the likelihood of snow combustion due to the release of additional impurities.

Reduce Air Pollution:

By reducing air pollution, we can minimize the amount of soot and other impurities present in the snow, decreasing the chances of snow combustion.

Maintain Proper Ventilation:

Proper ventilation is crucial in preventing snow combustion. Ensuring proper airflow and ventilation around snow-covered areas can help disperse any potentially combustible gases and reduce the risk of combustion.

In conclusion, snow can burn due to the impurities it absorbs from the environment, such as soot, pollutants, and chemicals. The heat absorption and chemical reactions within the snow contribute to the combustion process. Various factors, including temperature, humidity, wind, and altitude, can influence the likelihood and intensity of snow combustion. While snow combustion is a fascinating phenomenon, it is important to take precautions to prevent its occurrence and minimize potential risks.

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