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Snow Phenomenon Rolls Into Kent

Posted Feb. 10, 2014
enter photo description
Pictured are snow rollers on the Kent Campus.

An unusual weather phenomenon is rolling into town and onto campus. Perhaps you’ve seen them. They are called snow rollers and only occur when specific, uncommon weather conditions are present. Snow rollers are hollow, cylinder snow tubes made by nature only under very specific conditions.

“The two factors that must be present are a layer of moist snow at the surface and a strong wind,” says Thomas Schmidlin, professor in Kent State University’s Department of Geography. “When the layer of moist snow is underlain by something else, usually a dry, powdery snow, the wind gusts will pick up chunks of that wet surface snow and begin to roll it downwind until the roller becomes too big that the wind can no longer push it.”

Schmidlin says the reason the snow rollers are appearing in surrounding areas are due to the weather conditions on Jan. 26. Although he has been researching and teaching meteorology at Kent State since 1985, he says this is the first time he has seen the phenomenon.

“We had a weekend of about six inches of new, powdery snow,” says Schmidlin. “Then, we had warm air come in before arctic air. The temperature was around 40 degrees, making the top inch or two of snow wet. “

Schmidlin says following the warmer air, an arctic cold front swept through the air, with winds near 40 miles an hour.

“That was the perfect combination: the warm air and high winds,” says Schmidlin.

Schmidlin has been contacted by several other media outlets, including the Akron Beacon Journal, the Record-Courier, the Daily Kent Stater and WKSU to share his weather expertise. Schmidlin has bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in meteorology.

The snow rollers have been appearing throughout Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and the Kent Campus, and have captured the attentions of many. The rollers were showing up on flat areas around campus, including the fields next to the Center for the Performing Arts and the Child Development Center.