“In Chicago . . . my car windshield is often covered with frost first thing in the morning . . . but no frost accumulates if I leave the car under a carport or in the garage. So it seems that it must fall from the sky yet there’s nothing perceptible that’s falling. Does it fall? “
PAGE CONTENTSMatthew from Chicago
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Short answer it is Yes! Frost can form without any precipitation falling from the sky. When the temperature drops below freezing, moisture in the air can condense and freeze onto surfaces like your car windshield, resulting in ice. This can happen even if there is no precipitation occurring. Additionally, the carport or garage can help to prevent ice formation by providing some insulation and shielding the car from direct exposure to cold air. Now let’s explain!
Frost is created when water vapor in the air comes into contact with a surface that is at or below freezing temperature. This causes the water vapor to freeze into ice crystals on the surface, forming what we see as frost. This process is called deposition, where water vapor changes directly from a gas to a solid without going through the liquid phase. The formation of frost is most common on clear, calm nights when the ground and air temperature drops below freezing point, allowing for the freezing of the water vapor in the air.
Does frost falls from the sky? How come?
Every night, as soon as the sun sets, the surface of Earth starts to cool. Moisture hanging in the air as vapor begins to condense or change to liquid. That night, if the temperature goes below freezing, this moisture passes directly from a gaseous to a solid state. Ice crystals appear on your lawn.
That is called frost and is formed by the process of deposition, where water vapor in the air changes directly into ice without first becoming a liquid. When the temperature of the grass blades and other surfaces on the ground drops below the freezing point, any water vapor in the air that comes into contact with those surfaces will freeze and form ice.
Curiosities & Facts
- Frost can occur even at temperatures above freezing point, as long as the air is humid enough and objects are cold enough to cause water vapor to condense and freeze.
- The largest ice crystals ever recorded were found on a ice-covered plant in eastern Russia, and measured over 2 inches (5 centimeters) in length.
- The type of ice that forms on objects is known as “hoarfrost,” which is derived from the Old English word “hār,” meaning “white” or “gray,” and “ice,” meaning “to freeze.”
- Frost can be damaging to crops, as the ice crystals can rupture plant cells, causing the plants to wither and die.
- The first recorded study of ice was done by Aristotle in the 4th century BCE.
- In some parts of the world, frost is celebrated as a natural phenomenon. For example, in China, the “Ice and Snow Festival” is held each year in Harbin, where giant ice sculptures and buildings are created from blocks of frozen water.
- Ice patterns can create beautiful and intricate designs on windows, leaves, and other surfaces. These patterns are formed when water vapor freezes directly onto the surface, rather than forming ice crystals in the air and falling onto the surface.
- Frost can also be dangerous for drivers, as it can create slippery and icy road conditions that can lead to accidents.
- In some cultures, ice is believed to have magical properties and is used in folklore and rituals.
- The coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was at the Soviet Union’s Vostok Station in Antarctica, where temperatures dropped to a bone-chilling -128.6 degrees Fahrenheit, causing even the carbon dioxide in the air to freeze.
- In some regions, such as Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory, ice heaves, which are caused by the expansion of frozen ground, can damage roads and infrastructure.
Ice can form in the air when the temperature is below freezing, and water droplets freeze into ice crystals. As for the frostiest cities in America, some of the top contenders include Fairbanks, Alaska, Fargo, North Dakota, and International Falls, Minnesota.
Frost like in Alaska
A frosty night in Alaska (with the northern lights in the background.) Photo taken by Dick Hutchison
Picture yourself standing outside on a frosty night in Alaska. The air is so frigid that each breath feels like tiny icicles forming in your lungs. The snow crunches loudly beneath your feet as you walk, and the only sound you hear is the soft rustling of the wind in the trees. The stars in the sky twinkle with an almost supernatural brilliance, while the Northern Lights dance overhead in a dazzling display of color. It’s a magical, breathtaking experience, but one that reminds you of the immense power of nature and the delicate balance of life in this harsh environment.
The truth about frost
This frost fall doesn’t really come out from the sky. It goes directly from the air onto the grass or your car or anything else sitting out in the open. But when you put your car in the garage or under a carport something else happens.
The white stuff you are likely seeing on your carport or garage is most likely a buildup of frost or snow. When temperatures drop below freezing, any moisture in the air can condense and freeze on surfaces, creating a layer of frost or snow. In Chicago’s cold winter climate, it is common to see these frozen formations on outdoor surfaces during the winter months. It’s important to be careful when walking on surfaces covered in frost or snow, as they can be slippery and increase the risk of falls.
Like everything else on Earth, your carport or garage emits infrared or heat radiation. It keeps the air around it warmer so frost doesn’t collect. Maybe you’ve been walking to work some fall morning admiring the ice-covered lawns and you’ve noticed that the ground around a tree is ice-free. The same thing is happening there. The tree’s own heat radiation keeps the “frost fall” from forming.