Can you eat snow? Say, on a hike without water

Can you eat snow? Say, on a hike without water


Winter is definitely the most mysterious natural season. That's why many questions are asked about it. One of the simplest and most popular is: Can you eat snow? Usually, children ask their parents, but we believe that not all adults know the exact answer. It seems that you can, but what if you can't?

In this lesson of the Meteorological Textbook (WMT) for better weather forecasting, you'll find out if you can eat snow and how best to do it if you do decide to — for example, in a mountain hike, if you run out of water and there are no springs or a lake/river nearby. However, it can also happen even in the city — say, on a walk in a big park, so let's start there.

Can you eat snow in the city?

The answer to that is a certain: “No”. The urban environment is heavily polluted. Vehicle exhaust emissions contain lead and benzopyrene, both highly poisonous and carcinogenic. Factories also emit thousands of different hydrocarbons, heavy metals, and soot. In the end, cities are just full of garbage. Even clean-looking snow could have touched human waste.

The more time the snow spends on the ground, the dirtier it becomes. But even fresh snow can’t be exactly called clean, since it has traveled a long way through the atmosphere that also has plenty of harmful substances.

For the same reason, we don’t recommend consuming fruits and mushrooms that grow alongside big roads or in industrial zones.

But the countryside snow should be immaculate, right? I can surely eat snow, can’t I?

The majority of people would say yes. But the thing is, snow can’t be perfectly clean by definition. The center of every snowflake or raindrop is a small hard particle.

Such particles are called aerosols. Water can only condense on a hard surface, so there’s no precipitation without aerosols. There are plenty of them, even in the cleanest outdoor air.

What are these aerosols made of, anyway? Are they safe while eating snow?

We get it; you are THAT hungry, but let us slow you down here. Typically, aerosols are made up of dust and smoke (for example, from volcanoes and forest fires). Sometimes, there are also crystals of sea salt (which get into the air during storms) and even microorganisms.

There are also a lot of technogenic aerosols.

Aerosols are very light and can travel long distances from the source (like the Saharan dust that crosses entire oceans). And the central particle is not the only bit of aerosol in a snowflake. Others stick to it along the way. Turns out, even in the cleanest place, the snow “collects” all the dirt from the atmosphere.

I see... But what if I get lost in the woods and have nothing to drink? Can I eat snow in this case?

Even if you get lost in the woods or in the mountains, drinking (or eating snow) is not the best idea. Snow is much less dense than water. To get the equivalent of one glass of water, you will have to eat 10 glasses of fresh snow. This amount will cool down your body a lot and can lead to hypothermia. In winter, maintaining body heat is much more important than quenching thirst. But if you have a heat source, you can melt the snow or even better, boil it for disinfection.

But I really want to eat snow! What, I can’t, like, at all?

Ok, you can. But remember that it should be in very small quantities, and in the cleanest place you can find, far from big cities. If you catch a few snowflakes with your mouth, you most certainly won’t die. But use common sense, and remember that snow is dirty. Never stopped anyone from enjoying street food anyway.



Cover photo: Martin Bennie / Unsplash

Take other WMT lessons about the show

Snow and ice pellets formation

Examples of rare snow phenomena

Slush — a mixture of snow and water

Snow on the top of the mountains

Avoiding tree wells or snow traps

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