Nature is abundant with patterns wherever we look. The branches of the trees, the leaves on the ground, and the clouds in the sky all show us a natural geometry that is hard to replicate. Winters in New England often strip away the fascia and expose the true framework of the world around us. During these months we see things through a different lens and when hiking I find my eyes are looking and searching for new exciting things.

At the stream’s edge a sparkle ignites in the sunlight highlighting the crusty ice on the stream bank. A closer look reveals perfectly arranged crystals sprawling outward as if reaching for something beyond. It is in these patterns that the secrets of winter are possibly hidden. As with so many things in life, ice comes in many forms that we may not be aware of. Below is a short guide to the types of ice you will encounter when hiking in Westport this winter.

Needle Ice:

    Needle ice forms when the air temperature reaches freezing prior to the soil.  When the water freezes it expands upwards towards the cooler air temps from the soil surface.  Since the soil is not frozen, capillary action continues to pull water from the soil pushing the needles even further upward.  Once the soil reaches freezing temps the process stops. This type of ice has a very distinct sound and feel when walking on it.

Fern Frost:

   These intricate patterns are often found on windows and windshields.  Described as feather-like, these forms evoke the paisley patterns found on a classic bandana.  This frost forms when temperatures fall below freezing and are heavily influenced by imperfections in the glass such as scratches, nicks and residues from salt and washer fluid.  The slight variations affect the way the ice crystals form and expand.

Surface Hoar/Hoar Frost:

  These ice crystals often form on the top of snow banks and are the “sparkly crystals” you see on the surface of fields.  They form when the surface cools quicker than the interior allowing for moisture to evaporate and then re-crystalize on the surface.  Once the sun hits them they usually melt so they are best seen first thing in the morning.

Frost Flowers:

  These formations look like small puff balls and are most often found on water soaked logs.  These clusters of small, thin, curved ice filaments don’t occur often and seemingly need the perfect conditions to form.  It is speculated that moisture is pulled out of the pores of the wood forming the long filaments.  If you come across this one snag a photo as they are rare!

Rime Formations:

  Clouds and fog are the source material for this interesting formation of ice.  Driven by wind the moisture droplets, which are supercooled and below freezing, collide with snowflakes and hard surfaces.  They instantaneously freeze, forming sideways stalactite-like structures that “grow” towards the direction of the wind.  Our windy coast will splatter the rocky coastline with these formations so keep an eye out for them after a Nor’easter.