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Lovely Names for Snow

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The 1955 Glossary of Arctic and Subarctic Terms is a collection of scientific and indigenous terminology that’s dated, but often poetic, which describes the features of an extremely cold landscape. Among those terms are diamond dust, also called snow mist is “the precipitation of fine ice crystals falling directly from the atmosphere with no cloud formation present.” Snow pellets are sometimes called tapioca snow, and a sugar iceberg is “an iceberg composed of porous glacier ice.” Nieve penitente, which is Spanish for “penitent snow,” refers to spikes or pinnacles of ice or granular snow left by the uneven melting of a snowbank or glacier. Nieve penitente is found in the high altitudes along the border of Chile and Argentina, and may be so named either because from a distance they look like penitents kneeling in the cold or they resemble the tall, pointed habits worn by certain religious orders in the Processions of Penance during Spanish Holy Week. This is part of a complete episode.

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