Wintry landscape features snow rollers

By Gary Budzak

January 29, 2014

Old Man Winter is at play in central Ohio as he exhales to roll up cylinders of snow resembling hollowed-out Ho Hos icing.

It’s a mysterious meteorological phenomenon known as snow rollers, and these semi-snowmen may be the only interesting thing weather-wise to emerge out of an otherwise oppressive January.

“It’s an unusual event – it takes certain conditions to be able to get them,” Gary Garnet, a Cleveland-based National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist, told The Gazette.

Garnet said to get a snow roller, you first need a warm air surge to bring temperatures slightly above freezing and melt some of the snow already on the ground.

“Then we got really cold really quick, so you flash-freeze the snow to form a thin layer of ice,” he said. “We then got a small amount of packing snow on top of that. That combination made it possible for these snow rollers to form.”

Brisk winds lift that top layer of snow on top of the ice, and cause it to roll. Once formed, the rollers can sometimes reach large sizes, or sometimes they can have a hole in the center because that initial snow was loose.

The snow rollers serve as a reminder for the cold and weary to keep the winter of 2013-14 in perspective.

“This winter started off much colder than normal,” Garnet said. “But the last few winters have been milder than normal. Things have a way of averaging out over time. When you have a few mild winters, eventually you’re going to have a cold one, and this year is our year.”