The Perfect Storm For ‘Snow Rollers’

The perfect storm for ‘snow rollers’

By Kim Hone-McMahan

Akron Beacon Journal


AKRON, Ohio — Have you seen them? Those giant snowballs that rolled across the Akron, Ohio, area Sunday night?

Bob Vogel crawled out of bed early Monday to go cross-country skiing in Sharon Township, Ohio. When he stepped outdoors, he was amazed by what greeted him.

“The biggest one was about 15 inches wide. Another was 2 feet long,” he said of the balls known as snow rollers. “They are all different sizes and shapes.”

It’s a rare phenomenon. So much so that when we called Northeast Ohio weather experts to ask for more information about snow rollers, they responded with “what are they used for?” And “look it up on Wikipedia … that’s what I’ve been using.”

For the rollers to form, the snow needs to have the same consistency that’s needed to make a snowman.

“Dry, powdery snow, which is what we have had lately, is not that great for making a snowman. But what happened last night (Sunday) when we were sleeping is that the temperature got up to 39 or 40 degrees … and the top of all of that cold, powdery snow got … wet,” said Tom Schmidlin, meteorologist in the Department of Geography at Kent State University.

“It was windy … and we then had an inch or two of wet, packable snow.” Strong winds then can pick up a bit of snow and start it rolling.

“As long as the wind can sustain the weight (there is some momentum once it gets going) you get a snow roller,” Schmidlin continued. “It will stop once it gets so big, just like a person pushing a snowball. The wind has that limit too.”

The rollers, which are generally hollow inside, occur in wide-open areas where there is no vegetation poking through the white stuff.

“I’ve never seen them (in person) and I don’t hear about them much,” added Schmidlin, who planned to take a drive in search of nature’s wonder.


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PHOTO (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): snow-rollers