If you crave snow, but the weather won’t cooperate, take matters into your own hands and make real snow using a pressure washer or air compressor. The homemade snow is real frozen water, just like snowflakes that fall from the sky. Here’s what you need to make real snow, with tips for success, especially in the southern United States.
What You Need to Make Snow
You need water, a cold temperature, and a way to disperse the water into fine droplets.
- Cold water
- Reasonably cold outdoor temperature
- Pressure nozzle
It doesn’t necessarily have to be freezing outside to make snow. A snow maker at a ski resort in North Carolina said they make snow when the temperature is below 37 °F. The normal freezing point of water is 32 °F, so that might be warmer than you’d expect. The reason you can make snow when it’s above freezing is because it’s the wet bulb temperature that matters, not the thermometer reading. The other reason is that pushing water out of a tube under pressure expands its volume and cools it (thanks, physics!). Here’s a handy snowmaking tool to help you choose the best day to make snow. In many parts of the world, it gets cold enough to make snow at least a few days of the year. Otherwise, make snow indoors in a chilled room (like a walk-in freezer).
Let’s Make Homemade Snow
- Set aside a couple of hours to make enough snow for a yard. Start when it’s cold. Once you start making snow, it takes a while for it to melt, so you have some time if the temperature starts to rise.
- Maximize the amount of air in the mixture. It may take a few minutes to find the right setting.
- Point the sprayer at a 45-degree angle. This maximizes the contact between the mist and the air.
- Make snow!
Pressure Nozzle Options
Any pressure washer or air compressor works for this project. A simple garden mister can make snow, too, but it doesn’t have a high enough flow rate to blanket your yard. You can find special snow-making nozzles at home supply stores and online to make the best snow.
- Pressure washer (own or rent, using a fine mist nozzle or snow nozzle)
- Snow cannon (too expensive to buy, but can be rented)
- Garden hose with snow attachment (less snow per hour, but still fun)
Water for Making Homemade Snow
Use the coldest water you can find. Don’t even try hot tap water. You can use cold tap water, but water from a stream or river is better, if it’s available. Natural water is better for two reasons. It’s usually colder. Also, it contains tiny debris particles that act as nucleating agents that stimulate snowflake growth.
Tips for Making Snow When It’s Not Freezing
It needs to be cold to make snow, but it doesn’t have to be freezing. Here are tips to make snow in warmer climates:
- Make sure your nozzle produces the finest mist possible. The more you can increase surface area for the water, the better your odds of making snow.
- Add a nucleating agent. Southern ski resorts do this all the time because it means they can make snow at a higher temperature. A nucleating agent is just a fancy name for tiny particles in the water that snowflakes form around. It can be particles in river or stream water. It can be a sand, if you water supply naturally contains it (don’t add play sand). If you have clean water, add “snow nucleating agent,” which is a non-toxic polymer or protein that promotes snowflake formation. You can find it online.
Snow From Boiling Water
If it’s really cold outside, it’s better to use boiling water to make snow. The temperature needs to be -25 °F (-32 °C) or colder for this to work. All you need to do is throw a pan of boiling water into the air. You’re likely bundled up against the cold already, but it’s a good idea to wear gloves to protect your hands from frostbite, accidentally sloshing boiling water, or sticking to a cold pan.
It might seem counter-intuitive that boiling water would turn to snow better than cold water. It works because boiling water has a higher vapor pressure than cold water. In other words, boiling water is very nearly water vapor. Throwing boiling water into air exposes a lot of surface area so the freezing temperatures immediately convert the water into snow. Cold water does turn into snow, but it’s more likely to freeze into shards than form fluffy flakes.
- Kim, H. K. (1987). “Xanthomonas campestris pv. translucens Strains Active in Ice Nucleation“. The American Phytopathological Society.
- Liu, Xiaohong (2012). “What processes control ice nucleation and its impact on ice-containing clouds?”. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.