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Bizarre 'industrial snowfall' phenomenon baffles residents and sparks concern among experts: '[It was] really unlikely'

Only a few cases have been recorded.

Only a few cases have been recorded.

Photo Credit: iStock

What appeared to be an unexpectedly frosty London morning was actually the product of a rare weather phenomenon. The cause? Human pollution.

What happened?

According to the Guardian, an unusual weather event called industrial snowfall was reported near London's Heathrow Airport in early 2023. With the predictions for relatively dry conditions for southeast England at the time, weather and climate consultant Dr. Julian Mayes considered pollution to be the "only real explanation" for the snowfall.

Anthropogenic, or human-made, snowfall occurs when atmospheric moisture condenses around small particles of pollution, creating snowflakes.

Only a few cases of manmade snowfall have been recorded in the U.K., as this phenomenon requires a specific combination of low temperatures and an abundance of moisture in the atmosphere. One past incident of industrial snow even created apple-flavored snowflakes because of the emissions of a nearby cider mill, as described by one resident.

"It's fairly special," said Atmospheric Physics Professor Giles Harrison from the University of Reading Department of Meteorology, noting it was "really unlikely" for the snow to have formed by naturally occurring clouds.

Why is industrial snow concerning?

Industrial snow is often associated with pollution that is emitted into the atmosphere by various industries, including transportation and manufacturing. 

When common pollutants like sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides mix with the water vapor in the clouds, it can lead to the snow being formed with substances that are harmful to human health.

As this snow melts, it can go on to pollute soil and water sources, affecting the well-being of plant life, wildlife, and those in residential areas if the contaminated water is used for drinking or irrigation.

Industrial activities can also contribute to changes in weather patterns all over the world. When global temperatures rise, more moisture can become trapped in the atmosphere and lead to extreme weather events such as severe droughts, heavy flooding, and unprecedented freezes that disrupt entire ecosystems and populations.

What's being done about it?

This unusual kind of snowfall is predicted to become an increasingly rare occurrence as average temperatures are expected to rise.By paying attention to the discoveries made by weather scientists, educating ourselves about climate-related issues, and spreading the word about how collective action can help cool down the earth, we can work together to combat the consequences of pollution and the planet's climate crisis one step at a time.

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