I'm sure we have all had that moment when we step outside as it's snowing and take a moment to soak in the beauty Mother Nature gives us when her white flakes are floating to the ground. It's a thing of beauty, peace, and serenity. But is it actually quieter or is it just our imagination?
Well, that may depend on who you talk to. If you were out and about earlier this week, I'm sure it wasn't quieter because you were stuck in your car during gridlock traffic cursing this natural phenomenon for making your commute 5 times longer. That aside, when snow falls, it is actually quieter.
Granted, there is the human factor: fewer people outdoors and traffic is naturally moving slower. But there are fewer chirping birds, bugs are none existent, and animals are usually somewhere trying to stay warm. And when snow starts accumulating, it's doing a lot more than transforming the otherwise frozen and brown ground into a winter wonderland.
When the flakes fall, they absorb sound waves muting the sound of everything around you. Rain would have a similar effect in the summer, but rain makes noise when it hits the ground, cancelling any noise absorbing affects by adding the pitter patter to the atmosphere itself. But when snowflakes reach the ground, they don't make noise allowing them to soak up those decibels.
But, once the flakes hit the ground, the snow isn't done absorbing sound. The crystal structure of the flakes makes them pile up on the ground with space in between them. This is why 1" of rain does not equal 1 inch of snow. This is called the snow ratio or the number of inches of snow it takes to equal 1 inch of rain. The average is 10 to 1 meaning that it takes 10 inches of snow to equal 1 inch of liquid rain. But because Minnesota is quite cold, the snow ratio is often much higher. This means that it could take 15 or even 20 inches of snow to equal 1 inch of rain. Because of this, the same amount of mass is in a larger area, leaving more space between snowflakes and even more room for sound to get absorbed.
Obviously, every situation is different depending on location, wind speed, temperatures and a host of other factors. But it's not your imagination; it IS quieter when it snows.