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Why does it become so quiet after a fresh snowfall?

1/28/22 in Blog Posts

Why does it become so quiet after a fresh snowfall?

Ah, the peacefulness that comes with a fresh snowfall. Does the hush that falls happen because everyone’s hunkered down inside? Well, yes, because people tend to stay home during snowstorms, which means there are fewer people outside and not as many cars on the road. And birds tend to hunker down during severe weather, so they are more quiet during a snowstorm too, according to the National Audubon Society. 

But there’s actually science behind why the world gets so quiet after a snowfall. Snow absorbs sound, so when a fresh blanket of snow covers the landscape it absorbs many of the sound waves, making it seem quieter outside.

Sound absorption is rated on a scale of 0 to 1, AccuWeather reports. Something with a sound absorption rating of 0.5 absorbs 50 percent of sound, for example. The sound absorption rating of snow falls somewhere between 0.5 and 0.9, meaning it absorbs much of the surrounding sound. 

The reason snow is able to absorb sound is because it is porous. Snowflakes are six-sided crystals, and they are filled with open spaces, according to the Michigan State University Extension. Those spaces absorb sound waves, creating a quieting effect over a blanket of snow.

Not all snowfalls are equal when it comes to silencing the world outside. Just a dusting of snow isn't enough to absorb much sound. Usually a few inches of snow is needed to have a noticeable quieting effect, according to AccuWeather.

As snow melts, it loses its silencing ability because the snowflakes change shape as they melt, reducing the size of the spaces between the crystals. As temperatures fluctuate in winter, newly fallen snow can partially melt and then freeze. Once the snow turns to ice, it can actually amplify nearby sounds because ice reflects sound waves rather than absorbing them, according to the Michigan State extension. 

 

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