One of the great wintertime achievements for a kid in Northeast Ohio is to build a decent snow man. Sure you remember doing it, but do you really remember what it was like? If you had the right snow, the wet pack-able stuff it was easy going, and if you had the light dusty snow, forget it. Just pick up a lump of snow, pack it tight between your mittens and roll it over and over across the yard until it’s impossibly big, too big for you and your best friend to lift. That’s how you make the decision that this piece will be the bottom part of the snowman. As the fabric of your fuzzy mittens cake with melting ice and your jacket cuffs soak and run freezing water up your sleeve, you reach up to warm your wind burnt nose and cheeks, only to find your fingertips are even colder than your face.
In my neighborhood this was where Joe Belfiore usually hit somebody upside the head with a snowball, and Doug Gillard and I would have had such an easy time defeating Joey together, if only we hadn't started in on fighting each other. So, the process of building a snowman could take as much as three days, maybe longer as we were known to carry snowball fights over for several days, or weeks, as well. Just the very fact that somebody in the neighborhood had had the audacity to build a snow fort was cause for everyone else to try to destroy it. It’s funny, at the age of ten we had global politics all figured out.
When we did get back to building the snowman, we’d get our ambitions back together and decide that if we were going to build a towering giant of a snowman, the base needed to be at least four feet tall. So, working together this time, the two or three of us would continue to roll the giant ball of clean white (and one spot of road sludge from where we crossed the driveway) pushing off with our legs, our backs to the mammoth ball until we just couldn't rock it another inch. We began stage two of the snowman so that it was maybe a quarter of the size of the huge boulder snowball we rolled for the bottom, because we found that’s all the bigger a ball of wet, heavy snow we could lift up and place it on top of the base. The third stage of the snowman was sometimes smaller than a volleyball because, even standing on Skip Rowe’s shoulders, I couldn't balance a bigger snowball on the top. This left our Frosty the Snowman looking more like Jabba the Hutt, but we figured it was the amount of effort that counts, and not so much the symmetry or beauty of the final product.
Anyhow, I took you on this little trip down amnesia lane to tell you about something completely different; nature’s own snow rollers. You may have seen this rare phenomenon as much as once a year, unless you live in a hilly area where it is slightly more common. Essentially, it’s nature’s attempt to roll a snowball, and their appearance this week has made quite a buzz. The Chronicle even ran a photo of one Bruce Bishop found on Tuesday. According to meteorologists, there are a couple of conditions that have to exist before snow rollers occur:
- A slight incline, this doesn't happen on flat land very well.
- A thin icy crust so that snow rolls off and won’t stick to it.
- Loose, slightly wet snow on top of the crust so that it will form rolls.
- A high wind situation that tries to pick the slow up but ends up flipping a piece like half a pancake and then blowing it over and over in a roll.
- Wide open spaces work best. I looked around in Elyria but couldn't find any as there’s just too many wind breaks like houses, tree lines, fences etc.
In the right conditions, snow rollers are hollow inside but most of them I've seen collapse on themselves. Here’s a neat trick though, take a knife and cut them in half; you can actually count the layers.
You might have to travel out of town to find some Snow Rollers. I took a little drive down State Route 83 the other day and they were everywhere, but they might be in your own back yard too. In either case, bundle up and Get Outdoors!