Episode available within Canada only.
Photo: Don Komarechka

We have a relationship with few things in nature the way we do with snow: we hate it, we love it, we think we understand it. But we barely know the contradictory and beautiful components of snow’s character. But that’s something scientists are changing.

From the formation of single flakes to the howling 70 km/h winds of lake effect snow storms to the destructive power of avalanches, intrepid researchers are bringing snow science into the 21st Century.

In sunny Pasadena, California (of all places!) physicist Ken Libbrecht grows pristine, picture perfect snow crystals in his lab. “I like to call them designer snowflakes,” says Libbrecht.

Karen Koshiba braces through the lake snow effectKaren Kosiba braces through the lake snow effect

Deep in Montana’s avalanche country mechanical engineer Ed Adams and his team see snow in a unique way. “We approach snow as an engineering material,” says Adams. This has lead Adams to investigate the way the sun changes the very structure of snow, weakening it until it gives way and triggers an avalanche.

On the shores of Lake Ontario, hurricane chaser Karen Kosiba is throwing herself into the eye of a lake effect snow storm. Her goal is to understand these power weather events that lash the Great Lakes with 70 km/h winds.

In the mountains of Utah, Canadian atmospheric scientist Tim Garrett knows a dirty snow secret. Our winter weather models are based on data that’s 40-years out of date. Garrett is working to change that with a novel 3D camera that gives us a true picture of falling snow.

Meanwhile in California, the state’s Chief Snow Surveyor Frank Gehrke is worried. His latest soundings show that the Sierra Nevada snowpack is dangerously low and this will impact the drinking water and irrigation needs of the entire state. Things are so dire that Gehrke has partnered with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on an Airborne Snow Observatory to better track the state of California’s snowy “water crop”.

John Pomeroy in the Rockies

In Alberta hydrologist John Pomeroy is keeping an eye on what he calls Western Canada’s “water towers” -- the snow capped Canadian Rockies. Pomeroy has seen the other side of snow, its’ destructive power when rain-on-snow events unleash violent floods like the one that devastated Alberta in 2013. (What's Canada's snowiest city? Find out)

And photographer Don Komarechka gives a glimpse of the ephemeral, crystalline wonder of snowflakes through his unique images. “Snowflakes are tiny things. And if something is so small, you can’t really see the details with your own eyes, even if you want to. And so when I can photograph a snowflake and I can blow it up to the size of a dinner plate, then people can see that beauty,” says Komarechka.

Produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation & the nature of things with David Suzuki.

Credits (Click to expand)

the nature of things
with David Suzuki                        
Chasing Snowflakes

directed by     
Mike Downie

produced and written by
Mike Downie & David Wells

Murray Green

Michael Sweeney
John Badcock
Dave Rae
John Reed

additional cinematography
Scott Alexander
Nick de Pencier

location sound
Mary Wong

additional location sound
Gabe Chu
Matthew Hamilton
Matt Langley
Brad Martin

sound design
Alan Geldart

graphic design
Jake Boone

visual research
Gina Cali

Eric Barnett   

music consultant
Patrick Russell

online editing
Jessica Rutherford-Nardi

re-recording mix
Ron Searles

narration recording
Mark Wright

associate director
Renée Moreau

resource coordinators
Analisa Amoroso
Megan Beeckmans

unit manager
June Hall

production manager
David Wilson

business manager
Documentary Unit
Wilma Alexander

special thanks
Alta Peruvian Lodge
Alta Ski Area
Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
Barrier Lake Field Station, University of Calgary
Blue Mountain Resorts
California Department of Water Resources
Todd Collins
Distillery Historic District
Gallatin National Forest
Grey Sauble Conservation
Jordy Hendrikx
Daniel "Howie" Howlett
Dan Miller
Cheryl Murphy
Montana State University
National Science Foundation - OWLeS Project
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

additional images 

WGBH Media Library & Archives
Ed Adams
Tim Garrett
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections
JPL - California Institute Of Technology
California Dept. Of Water Resources
CBC Archives
Jeff Turner
Corbis Motion
Getty Images
Don Komarechka
Kenneth G. Libbrecht
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures  - “Frozen”
Tristan Zaba
Wade Graham
produced with the participation of



senior producers
FM Morrison
Caroline Underwood

executive producer
Sue Dando

executive director
Documentary Programming
Mark Starowicz
The Nature of Things
with David Suzuki

produced by
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation


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