Science: Snowflakes Electrified?

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It was snowing—a dry, cold, tiny-flaked snow. In his country house near Greenwich, Conn., which is cluttered with a variety of electronic gadgets, Dr. Orestes H. Caldwell, editor of Electronic Industries, was fiddling with his short-wave radio. It seemed to be afflicted with a peculiar kind of staccato static. He turned on his television set, found it similarly affected, the interference appearing as a series of rapid black & white flashes on the screen.

Dr. Caldwell went out into the snowstorm, began to tinker with the television antenna. He made a discovery which so electrified him that last week he announced it in a press release: ELECTRIFIED SNOW FALLS IN CONNECTICUT.

Snowflakes, though their shapes and patterns have been thoroughly catalogued, have had little fundamental study; nobody knows, for example, exactly where & how they are formed. Dr. Caldwell's big news was that apparently, under certain conditions, snowflakes carry strong electrical charges. He discovered that the flakes were charged by covering his antenna; when he did, the static promptly stopped.

Dr. Caldwell guessed that part of the charge may be produced "at the birth of the snow crystals in the upper atmosphere," when "tiny water droplets'' combine to form a flake with a smaller total surface than that of the separate drops and hence a higher potential. As the flakes swirl downward they presumably pick up more electrons.

Mused Dr. Caldwell: "I wonder if the presence of repellent charges on flakes is responsible for the curious way they swirl down sometimes, always keeping clear of each other. Could be, n'est-ce pas?"