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Rime Ice Transforms Northwoods Into Winter Wonderland

The Northwoods transformed into a winter wonderland over the weekend.

Trees and other plants were coated with a sparkling white layer of ice.

When Licia Johnson woke up to the sight, her first thought was hoarfrost, but she knows that only forms on clear nights.

“I know that we had these fog advisories going on,” said Johnson. “I thought well that was an interesting discrepancy and could hoarfrost form with the fog? Is that the same thing or is it something different?”

Those questions led the Education Director and Naturalist at the North Lakeland Discovery Center in Manitowish Waters to do a little research.

Johnson soon found out it was actually something called rime ice that we’re seeing on the trees.

Unlike hoarfrost that needs clear skies and moisture that clings to surfaces to form frost, rime ice is more like a frozen dew.

Johnson said the fog combined with the freezing temperatures create what’s called super cooled water droplets that retain their fluidity despite the temperature.

“These super cooled water droplets are floating around in this fog and whenever they come into contact with something, with a surface that’s also below freezing they will freeze instantly to that surface and that’s where you get that ice accumulation forming,” explained Johnson.

Johnson says the rime ice doesn’t have any benefits to nature that she’s aware of, but if it accumulates for several days it can get heavy enough to bring down branches or powerlines.

The few days we had it here in the Northwoods wasn’t enough do some damage, but it was certainly beautiful to look at.

“It was just so pretty and noticeable,” said Johnson. “It’s so fun to just learn these little tidbits about what’s going on and it makes you look even closer like at weather patterns.”

These are the types of things you can learn at different programs offered by the North Lakeland Discovery Center. The center is offering different interpretive snowshoe hikes throughout the winter including full moon snowshoes. The hikes are led by different naturalists on staff.

You can find a full list of programing offerings on the North Lakeland Discovery Center website.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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