How are Montana’s snow ghosts formed?

Posted at 12:15 PM, Feb 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-13 14:15:28-05

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KALISPELL – They are a natural phenomenon special to Northwest Montana: Snow Ghosts.

While they look soft and ghost-like, according to Teresa Wenum with the Flathead National Forest, snow ghosts are made up of ice called rime, and Whitefish Mountain Resort has the perfect weather for it.

Rime is formed by water droplets that come from fog which is made up of masses of suspended liquid water droplets that can exist at a liquid state between 30º and -40º. These water droplets have no nuclei, allowing them to stay in liquid form until they come in contact with an obstacle, like a tree.

As snow builds and shapes the tree you can see the classic outline of a snow ghost. Wenum explained why this phenomenon is found specifically in Whitefish, Montana.

“We are in that Pacific maritime environment here, so we typically have a lot of moisture that gets pulled in,” Wenum said. “And so again, in the clouds it’s in the fog that come in those ridge lines and the summit there. It’s that heavy moisture and that liquid, so that’s what makes it really unique there.”

However, with all the extra wind and snow the mountain is having this year, the snow ghosts have had a difficult time fully forming.

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Mark R Thorsell