Debunked: Fake Snow, Burning Snow.

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
There are some videos going around that claim to show that recent snowfalls are somehow "fake", because when people try to melt the snow with a lighter or blowtorch, they are surprised by the results.

Typical story with links to several videos:
http://www.adguk-blog.com/2014/01/fake-snow-reported-in-multiple-states.html?m=1
What's happening here is:

A) The snow is melting, but the very loose fluffy structure of the snow wicks away the water, turning dry snow into wet snow, and eventually turning the snow into slush.

B) The snow is blackened when a lighter is held underneath it because of the soot from the lighter (the products of incomplete combustion). It's not burning.

C) The smell is fumes from the lighter (also from incomplete combustion) and/or people briefly burning nearby objects like gloves.

D) It is not sublimation. At these temperatures and pressures, and over this timeframe, any sublimation is not going to be measurable. See end of this post for proof.

Heres a typical setup.


Snow is more air than water. And the colder it is, the more air (and less water) it has in it:
http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/or/snow/?cid=nrcs142p2_046155


He then gets a blowtorch out, which just speeds up the process. With the blowtorch there's also going to be more evaporation of the water, which will help things keep dry. However you can see there's also a lot of liquid water here (in the form of slush). I don't think the evaporation is a big factor.


Unfortunately he stops right there. All he has done is partially melted the snow, the remaining snow has soaked up the water created, and you get slush. If he continued, then you'd get a little puddle of water.

Notice also that the snow does not get black. The blowtorch is cleaner burning and far away from the snow. This proves the black coloration was coming from the lighter when held close.

He then compares this to an ice cube:

The problem with this comparison is that snow and ice are radically different. Ice is solid water. Snow is mostly air, a fluffy mass of lots of tiny snowflakes, which are ideally shaped to absorb water. So when bits of the snow melt, it just gets absorbed into the surrounding snow, making slush. When the ice cube melts, the water has nowhere to go, so you get a puddle.



So what these videos are demonstrating is little more than the fact that using a lighter is not a very good way of melting snow. But it does melt. If you just left it there you'd get a puddle. If you kept melting it with the lighter it would eventually stop transitioning to slush, and start pooling water. Same thing with the blowtorch, just quicker. And you could really speed up the process by putting it in a microwave.

The snow is getting black because the butane lighter in this case is being held under the snow, the snow gets a coating of soot. If you put a lighter under anything, you'll get soot on that thing. Like this glass slide and piece of ice. (The soot comes from incomplete combustion when you hold the flame too close to an object and restrict the oxygen supply. If you lower the flame half an inch, then there is very little blackening.)


And a more detailed (35 second) video explanation I made:



Unfortunately, the maker of the video interprets this as the snow "burning". Clearly it's not though. The snow does not catch fire, it just get a little sooty. Here's another example:



The smell of plastic and the blackening of the snow happen together. This is because of incomplete combustion. When butane (in the lighter) burns with a good supply of oxygen then it combusts fairly cleanly into carbon dioxide and water. But if there's a lack of oxygen flow (like it's too close to some object), then there's much more leftover carbon (in the form of the soot) and toxic carbon monoxide. What you are smelling is basically the carbon, and the unburnt butane gas.

In this video I demonstrate clean (full combustion) and dirty (partial combustion) burning of butane.

There's also been some discussion of sublimation (where ice transitions directly from solid to gas). This has been suggested as an explanation as to why the snow seems to not produce liquid. But it's a false and needless explanation. Sublimation happens mostly at low pressure. If there is any water loss here it's because the ice crystals rapidly melt, and then just as rapidly evaporate.

I think though that the majority of the snow turns to liquid. This could be verified by weighing it on a sensitive scale as it is melted with a flame.
[UPDATE] Someone has done this experiment, and demonstrated zero detectable sublimation or evaporation. It's just melting. See video:

So what's going on with these bogus "fake snow" videos? One possibility is that it just a hoax - someone might have made it as a joke, the other people followed suit. But it's quite possible that the makers of these videos actually believe what they are saying. It's possible that the recent cold weather has brought snow to places that do not normally have it, and these people are simply are unfamiliar with the properties of snow, and how it melts.

Most people will find this story rather silly. And yet I just spent half an hour writing the above explanation (and more time now expanding and editing it). Why waste time over a silly story? I do it because people get genuinely concerned about such things, and it's good to explain it for them, so they can stop worrying. I also do it because the more bunk is out there, the less time people will have for real issues. I'm improving the signal to noise ratio.
 
Last edited:

cloudspotter

Senior Member
Those were my thoughts exactly when I saw these videos a little earlier. In the first video you can clearly see the snow getting wetter and anyone who knows a little about survival techniques will have heard about rolling in snow to dry off if you fall through ice.
 

David Fraser

Senior Member
Those were my thoughts exactly when I saw these videos a little earlier. In the first video you can clearly see the snow getting wetter and anyone who knows a little about survival techniques will have heard about rolling in snow to dry off if you fall through ice.
Excellent point mate.

When I first saw the videos I was thinking of the survival training and digging snow holes. The snow is often very soft yet you have no fear of drowning if you have a candle or a burner going.

I am actually saddened that people are now frightened of snow. I know it can be a killer but it always has been a passion of mine. I am waiting to get out sledding on the Peaks soon. I wonder how people my age appear to have missed how snow is, the differences and types.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Maybe someone could make a video showing the melting process taken to liquid completion with a small lighter? You could do it with loose snow like in the first video (where you will see the exterior fluffy structure melt away), and with a more compacted snowball (where the initial melting will be less obvious)

It might take a while. So I'd use a grape-sized snowball.
 

Soulfly

Banned
Banned
Just holding it in my bare hands was enough to start it melting. It dripped on the floor.

I don't think the hardcore believers of something nefarious are going to care if it melts in a microwave, stove or in your hands. They see flame, a black mark and no dripping and are convinced.

I don't know therefore, geoengineering, chemtrails or nanobots.
 

David Fraser

Senior Member
Just holding it in my bare hands was enough to start it melting. It dripped on the floor.

I don't think the hardcore believers of something nefarious are going to care if it melts in a microwave, stove or in your hands. They see flame, a black mark and no dripping and are convinced.

I don't know therefore, geoengineering, chemtrails or nanobots.
That's physics mate. The temperature of your hands and that of a flame are different. People need to understand this.

Thanks for the video.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
That's physics mate. The temperature of your hands and that of a flame are different. People need to understand this.

Thanks for the video.
You saying he has hand hotter than flame? :)

It's not the temperature, it's the heat. A flame holds very little heat, as it's just a fraction of a gram of hot gases. Hands are equivalent to big bags of hot blood.
 

blargo

Member
The other difference this year in many of these areas is the temperature. I grew up in Buffalo, NY and now live in Golden, CO. The difference in snow quality is traditionally night and day. Buffalo traditionally had heavy wet snow as do most of the east coast and here in Golden we usually get nice light fluffy snow, the usual difference is the humidity. Now with this much colder air the east coast and many areas are getting a more light fluffy snow, so it does seem much different to them.
 

Soulfly

Banned
Banned
An easy way to test that a butane lighter will leave a black mark on something that doesn't burn is to try and burn a drinking glass.
 

David Fraser

Senior Member
You saying he has hand hotter than flame? :)

It's not the temperature, it's the heat. A flame holds very little heat, as it's just a fraction of a gram of hot gases. Hands are equivalent to big bags of hot blood.
Crap analogy I admit, but if my hands were to produce the same heat as a flame it would hurt. Hands are less than 37C but a flame is 1000+. That is roughly an exponential difference. His hands will not evaporate snow
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Crap analogy I admit, but if my hands were to produce the same heat as a flame it would hurt. Hands are less than 37C but a flame is 1000+. That is roughly an exponential difference. His hands will not evaporate snow
Right, but the point here was that holding snow in his hands in this case resulted in dripping snow quicker than heating it with a flame. That's because his hands could impart heat faster than the flame.
 

Soulfly

Banned
Banned
Right, but the point here was that holding snow in his hands in this case resulted in dripping snow quicker than heating it with a flame. That's because his hands could impart heat faster than the flame.
My hands also have a greater surface area than the flame.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I just took some pics of that soot under the microscope to demonstrate it is just soot, and not faked. I'd never appreciated just how even it is, and how tiny the particles. I had to smear it just to get something to focus on.





It takes a lot of magnification before you can see the individual soot particles:
 

Trigger Hippie

Senior Member
Excellent point mate.

When I first saw the videos I was thinking of the survival training and digging snow holes. The snow is often very soft yet you have no fear of drowning if you have a candle or a burner going.
Did you mean freezing?

We'd dig out snow shelters after letting a big pile of snow settle and crystallize. One candle and the combined body heat kept the place incredibly comfortable. The biggest problem would be keeping the sleeping bags dry from little dripping icicles that would form on the ceiling.
 

Trigger Hippie

Senior Member
The wicking action of snow is evident if you've ever tried to melt a big pot of snow over a camp fire. It takes forever. It slowly turns to slush and requires constant stirring. You can't seem to pour any off either as the unmelted snow within the pot seems to hold the water like a sponge.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
The wicking action of snow is evident if you've ever tried to melt a big pot of snow over a camp fire. It takes forever. It slowly turns to slush and requires constant stirring. You can't seem to pour any off either as the unmelted snow within the pot seems to hold the water like a sponge.
That is a good example, also a good illustration of the amount of water in snow.
http://www.dryadbushcraft.co.uk/bushcraft-how-to/obtaining-water-from-snow-and-ice
 

Trigger Hippie

Senior Member
Yup that's exactly how to do it. Melt a small amount and bring it to a boil then keep adding snow. Best is to make camp next to a stream or lake.

These days I just turn on the faucet at the Grand Sunset Princess on the Riviera Maya.
 

InvisiGyrl

New Member
What about the smell? Are YOU personally willing to go get a bucket of this stuff and EAT it? Please make a video when you do. Snow doesn't smell, melts when heated and doesn't melt and evaporate like Styrofoam.
 

Cairenn

Senior Member
I have friends that have collect soot from candles or a fire on a ceramic plate, then scrapped the soot off, to make period ink (pre 1600).
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
What about the smell? Are YOU personally willing to go get a bucket of this stuff and EAT it? Please make a video when you do. Snow doesn't smell, melts when heated and doesn't melt and evaporate like Styrofoam.
Unfortunately it does not snow round here. I'd have to drive up the mountains. I wouldn't drink it after making it all sooty with the lighter though!

The smell is either coming from the lighter, or from burned gloves or similar. Possibly both.

The way it melts is explained in the OP
 

Trigger Hippie

Senior Member
What about the smell? Are YOU personally willing to go get a bucket of this stuff and EAT it? Please make a video when you do. Snow doesn't smell, melts when heated and doesn't melt and evaporate like Styrofoam.
This might sound weird, but I've been melting and drinking snow since I was a teenager. It tastes like crap, it's always tasted like crap, and I suspect it will always taste crappy. However, combined with a bag of tea or some soup mix it ain't not bad.

I'm camera shy, but if I melt some snow and drink it, what will that prove?
 

Soulfly

Banned
Banned
What about the smell? Are YOU personally willing to go get a bucket of this stuff and EAT it? Please make a video when you do. Snow doesn't smell, melts when heated and doesn't melt and evaporate like Styrofoam.
Why would the snow only have a chemical smell if you try and burn it? Wouldn't there be a chemical smell just by going outside and standing in the snow? Melt some in the microwave and then smell it. Bring it to a boil on the stove and smell it. Hold a lighter on without lighting it and have a sniff. Now imagine the fumes from the lighter getting trapped in the snow, which is mostly air.
 

shotgunsusie

New Member
Explain the crystals in the bowl after melting it.
Explain the little white balls on the ground after snow is melting.
Explain the dirt left after snow melts in baggy.
Explain the odor.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Explain the crystals in the bowl after melting it.
Explain the little white balls on the ground after snow is melting.
Explain the dirt left after snow melts in baggy.
Explain the odor.
It would be helpful if you could point to the which video you mean. But likely:

Crystals = unmelted snow
White balls = snow? You'd have to show me. Why don't they examine them?
Dirt = dirty snow.
Odor = lighter fumes and/or gloves, etc, burning
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Archived: http://archive.is/GcYpU

Havoc has ensued? Where? On twitter?
 

Pete Tar

Senior Member
Explain the crystals in the bowl after melting it.
Explain the little white balls on the ground after snow is melting.
Explain the dirt left after snow melts in baggy.
Explain the odor.
Why don't you make the effort and explain it yourself? Investigate possibilities and choose the most likely.
 

Soulfly

Banned
Banned
Not really, as the shaved ice would have a coarser texture than snow, and lack the low level geometry that does the wicking.
But when you add the syrup the "snow" absorbs the liquid. The syrup is much more viscous than water though. But it could illustrate the concept. Was a thought.
 

Soulfly

Banned
Banned
Shaved ice would probably work better. Some snow cone makers are more like a cheese grater. More surface area the better.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
But when you add the syrup the "snow" absorbs the liquid. The syrup is much more viscous than water though. But it could illustrate the concept. Was a thought.
Yeah, I tried the lighter thing with crushed ice. It melted too quick. Crushed ice is radically different to most snow.
 

derrick06

Active Member
Good stuff Mick. Dont ever feel like you wasted your time. All info is good info. Great job to you and the people also who provided great videos debunking this misconception!
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I guess you can blame most of the paranoia on the fact that US neocons have covertly done weather modification before

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Popeye
I seriously doubt any of the people posting, sharing, and retweeting those videos have heard of that. And it was only covert in the sense that a bombing raid is covert. Wartime and all.

Cloud seeding is quite commonly done in the US. It would not make snow that was detectable different to normal (without incredibly sensitive instruments).
 
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