Nfld. & Labrador

Too cold to snow? That old myth is not true, says meteorologist

David Neil of the Gander Weather Centre says it's incorrect to say it can be too cold to snow.

Old saying that it won't snow at frosty temperatures is just plain wrong

Unfortunately, David Neil of the Gander Weather Centre of Environment Canada says it's never really too cold to snow. (Kevin O'Connor/CBC)

Maybe you've heard it said: "It's too cold to snow."

The implication is, if temperatures in the winter drop low enough, it's impossible for snow to fall.

That would be great news for homeowners who dread shovelling and also for municipal snowclearing budgets across our country.

Turns out, that old saying is wrong — dead wrong. 

It is a myth.-David Neil

Meteorologist David Neil says it's just not true that it can be too cold to snow.

"The colder the temperature, it reduces the ability for the air to hold water vapour," said Neil. 

"But the air still does have the capacity to be able to hold moisture, so it is a myth."

Neil, who is based at the Gander Weather Centre of Environment Canada,  told the Corner Brook Morning Show that the confusion over cold temperatures and snowfall seems to stem from people's misunderstanding of what it takes for snow crystals to form.

This 2013 photo shows sea ice in the Strait of Belle Isle, with Labrador in the distance. It was a cold winter on the Northern Peninsula with very little snow. (Gord Hoddinott)

He says there has to be a certain amount of moisture in the air to even make snow.

Heavy snow less likely when it's cold

Neil acknowledges that, because it's harder for the air to hold water vapour at really low temperatures, areas experiencing a cold snap are less likely to get heavy snow.

"There is a slight sliver of truth to it, but it's not too cold to snow."

So there you have it: the lack of snow on some cold days is more related to the moisture content of the air, rather than where the mercury sits.


Bernice Hillier is a host of CBC Newfoundland Morning, which airs weekday mornings across western and central Newfoundland, as well as southern Labrador.