How Much Water Is In Snow?

As Jeffrey came in from shoveling, he peeled his extra layers of clothing off, shedding snow all over the floor. Before he had time to make any hot cocoa, the snow had melted into water puddles in the floor. Very large water puddles.

We got curious. If something as simple as snow attached to clothing could create massive puddles on the floor, how much water could you get from several inches of snow? So, we set out to find out. After all, learning doesn’t have to stop because it’s a snow day!

The experiment started when Jeffrey brought in a big pot of snow.

After measuring, we realized it was 9 inches of snow. We had hoped to do ten, but our largest pot was 9 inches deep, so no rounded off, even numbers for us. We made a note of the starting number of inches of snow.

Then, we played the waiting game as the snow melted. This would have been a great time to make a hypothesis about how many inches of water we thought we’d have when our 9 inches of snow melted.

A lot of this discusses basic science principals. Snow is, at it’s core, a solid, like ice. As dust gets kicked up into clouds, water forms around that particle, then hardens in the cold, creating snow.

In the same way, ice is a solid, and when it melts, it becomes liquid. Both of these solids have specific properties that a younger scientist can take note of. If you want to extend the activity, consider taking the temperature of the snow versus the temperature of the melted snow (water). You’ll be able to make more observations about what happens when snow melts.

For our purposes (and older scientist), we just wanted to have a core understanding of how much water you’d get from 9 inches of snow. Because Jeffrey has been really interested in survival skills lately, he has been learning about how to find water when there isn’t water available. If you’re in the snow, you obviously have a lot of water available, and, after boiling or purifying, you’d be able to have drinkable water if you were stranded in the snow. Because water is one of the most necessary things for sustaining life, more than food, it’s a really important thing to figure out how much water you have access to if you can find a small unmelted snow patch somewhere.

In the same pot that held 9 inches of snow, after melting, there was only…

1 inch!

That means melted snow (water) took up only 1/9th of the space that the snow took up. But really, how much water came from all of that snow? For example, if Jeffrey was out in the wilderness, away from all sources of water, aside from one side of a hillside that hadn’t totally melted yet, and had this pot with him, and scooped up that 9 inches of snow…. how much water would he have gotten?

This specific pot held 5 2/3 cups of water from the 9 inches of snow that was originally put in it. Of course, we could go into cubic inches and discuss how my pot might have a different diameter than your pot, leaving a different amount of water than what we got. Those are experiments you can consider at home depending on the age and grade level of your kids. The awesome thing about this experiment is that you can talk about physical properties of substances– like how snow is a solid and can turn into a liquid when it reaches it’s melting point, or talk about volume, or consider a wide variety of scientific methods. We chose to tie our experiment into survival basics, and realized that, provided Jeffrey could find snow and a pot this exact size in the wilderness, he’d be able to have some water for survival– just over 5 cups after boiling!

The trick to getting kids to enjoy science, or really, any subject, is to find their interest and explore topics relating to that interest with them. Because Jeffrey’s passion is survival skills, it paves the way for a lot of great science experiments like this one. Plus, it’s the perfect way for sneaking in a little bit of learning on a snow day when no one can get outside.

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