What Snow Days Mean to Adults

An ode to a natural gift that could melt away

Snow-covered trees, nicknamed "snow monsters," are silhouetted by the sun at the summit of Mount Zao on January 19, 2019, near Yamagata, Japan.
Carl Court / Getty

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Shortly after our writer Katherine J. Wu, “a born-and-bred Californian,” moved to Boston, she was met with an epic snowstorm—one so bad that the city ran out of places to dump the snow piles. As you can imagine, she wasn’t thrilled. But now, more than eight years later, climate change is threatening winter snow in Boston and the rest of New England, she writes: “Snow may someday cover New England’s landscape for only about six weeks a year, about half the norm of recent decades.”

If you don’t love snow, that might not sound like such a tragedy. But, as Katie notes, “nature’s dandruff” has real benefits for Earth’s flora and fauna. It acts as an insulator for fragile soil, “swaddling it like a fluffy down coat,” she writes. “Plants and microbes thrive beneath it. Animals burrow inside of it to evade predators.”

Snow, of course, also has a way of showing us the beauty of the world in a new way. “I wonder how I will describe snow to a generation that might only rarely get to see it—how I will explain to children of the future why Norman Rockwell paintings look so white,” Katie writes. She could look to these lines from The Atlantic, written in 1862 by an anonymous contributor, about the calm of the morning after a snowstorm:

The air sparkles like the snow; everything seems dry and resonant, like the wood of a violin … On such a day, the universe seems to hold but three pure tints—blue, white, and green ... That sensation we poor mortals often have, of being just on the edge of infinite beauty, yet with always a lingering film between, never presses down more closely than on days like this.

Today, we’re taking a moment to appreciate snow—and some of the unexpected gifts it brings when it falls.

On Snow

Four skiers sunbathe in the snow following a meal in Sun Valley, Idaho.
George Silk / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

For Adults, Snow Days Feel Like Divine Permission to Rest

By Helena Fitzgerald

Snow is an excuse to focus on beauty instead of productivity, adventure instead of achievement.

Black-and-white photo of a child looking out the window as it snows
Getty

How Children Conjure a Snow Day

By Kate Cray

Spoons under pillows, ice cubes in the toilet, and other rituals to call forth snow

Trees in snow
Donald Heupel / Reuters

In Praise of Snow

By Cullen Murphy

Watching it, understanding it, and forecasting it is a surprisingly large and intricate undertaking.


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P.S.

I’ll leave you with a snow fact from the 1862 Atlantic article that charmed me: According to the writer, snow has been called “wooly water, or wet wool” by some throughout history. (The comparison between snow and wool also exists in a Biblical psalm.)

— Isabel