Why Doesn’t Snow Melt When You Put a Lighter to It?

Why Doesn't Snow Melt Under Fire?
Real snow actually does melt under fire, but the air between snowflakes makes it less likely to drip.

Is it true real snow doesn’t melt under fire or if you try to heat it with a lighter? Every winter, snow falls and the internet gets flooded with videos of “scorched snow” or so-called evidence of “fake snow.” The reality is real snow doesn’t melt much under a normal lighter or candle flame. But, it isn’t because the snow is contaminated or fake. It’s just due to the properties of snow and water.

The reason snow doesn’t melt under fire is because it’s snow. The phenomenon is not evidence of a conspiracy theory or fake snow.

Reasons Real Snow Doesn’t Melt Under Fire

Snow does melt under fire. But, some properties of snow make it less likely to drip than an ice cube.

  1. Airspace gives water somewhere to go besides down.
    Snow and snowballs consist of snowflakes and a lot of air. When you heat snow with a candle or lighter, flakes melt into water. Gravity exerts a pull on the liquid, but it’s not enough to make the first few water droplets drip. The water fills the spaces between snowflakes. Capillary action draws water through the channels between ice crystals. The high cohesion of water molecules help them stick together.
  2. Air insulates snow from fire.
    Heat from a candle or lighter flame doesn’t affect most of a snowball. Air between snowflakes insulates ice, much as it insulates people inside igloos. Melting an ice cube is easier than melting a snowball because there isn’t as much air. Even then, the high heat capacity of water makes it hard to melt a significant amount of ice with a flame.
  3. There isn’t a lot of water in snow.
    According to The National Severe Storms Laboratory at NOAA, about thirteen inches of snow equal one inch of rain. If you take the trouble to melt a handful of snow or even a snowball, you’ll see it really doesn’t contain that much water. So, when you melt snow with fire, you don’t get much liquid.

Why Snow Turns Black If You Burn It

Candles and lighters don’t burn their fuel perfectly. Their flames are examples of incomplete combustion, resulting in soot and other combustion products. Heating a snowball, ice cube, or even a piece of metal deposits these chemicals onto the surface. This makes the surface turn black and smell like burning plastic. The effect is greater if you heat the object from below, because rising hot air draws the particles upward. It is not a sign that snow, ice, or any other object is burning.