Snow Rollers

January 05, 2001


Provided by: Dennis Main, Sedgwick County Extension Center
Summary authors & editors: Dennis Main

Image Source: John Stannard, K-State Extension - Odd "Snow Rollers" Appear in Kansas

Strong winds coupled with just the right snow conditions on December 18 to produce nature-generated snowballs and "muffs" in Russell County, Kan. The weird-looking phenomena ranged in size from baseballs to 30-gallon drums. They showed up on city streets, golf courses, and other smooth surfaces countywide -- including the towns of Lucas, Wilson, Luray and Russell.

John Stannard, one of the county’s K-State Research and Extension agents, called people across Kansas, trying to find an explanation for the "self-rolling" snowballs. Laughter was his major response. Or, "This is a joke, right?" At his request, however, State of Kansas climatologist Mary Knapp investigated and found other documented cases -- in Alaska and Antarctica.

"Ours are like the ‘snow rollers’ in Alaska. To form, they need high winds, temperatures around the freezing mark, and fluffy snow that’s falling onto ice or packed snow. Under those conditions, big flakes almost bounce and slide when they hit ground, picking up more snow with each touchdown," Knapp said. "Then, when they get too heavy, they start to roll -- leaving a wake like you see when rolling balls for a snowman."

The smallest snow rollers often look like a comma or marble. The biggest often look like a fat carpet roll or misshapen ball, she said. But, wind and rolling can sculpt out a wild variety of shapes.

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