Weather warnings were in place across the country this week, warning of snow showers and ice. I have to admit, any time there is snow forecast I usually take it with a pinch of salt, with ‘proper’ snow being somewhat a rarity living right on the coast. As you can imagine, I got a surprise when I looked out the window on Thursday morning to see my snow covered car and garden! Numerous people over the summer commented on the sand dunes at Forvie, comparing them to the planet Tatooine from Star Wars, with the addition of snow there is no doubt that they look otherworldly, like something you’d see in a sci-fi film.
The snow isn’t the only thing making the reserve look particularly pretty at the moment, we’ve also had some cracking sunset scenes of vibrant orange, pink and purple hues.
A phenomenon known as Rayleigh scattering is not only the reason that the sky appears blue during the day, it also creates the picturesque sunset colours we have been seeing lately. Sunlight contains the whole colour spectrum. Blue light is mirrored and scattered by gas particles in the Earth’s atmosphere, meaning less of it reaches the ground and instead bounces around in the atmosphere above us, which answers the question: ‘Why is the sky blue?’.
During sunset, the light from the sun has a larger distance through the atmosphere to travel before it reaches our eyes, so a greater amount of blue light is scattered and the warmer tones can pass straight through to our eyes with ease, creating the striking red, orange and pink sunsets.
On Friday into Saturday we experienced all kinds of weather from snow to sun, rain to sleet and even a brief shower of hail. Not to mention, all of the puddles and bodies of water around the reserve had, to some extent, frozen over!
The short shower of hail got me thinking about how hail stones are formed, something I remember learning about when I was younger after reading stories of hailstones as big as a grapefruit… thankfully these were smaller than that.
Hailstones are quite literally balls of ice that fall from the sky. They form inside storm and thunder clouds when up- and downdraughts move water droplets that are too small and light to fall to the ground, up and down through the cloud. As these smaller raindrops are pushed by the rising air currents up into the colder parts of the cloud, higher in the atmosphere, they freeze and thus, become a hailstone. In this area of the atmosphere there are what is known as ‘supercooled’ water drops, which are droplets of water that remain unfrozen even though the surrounding air is below freezing. The newly formed hailstone collides in the air with these water drops which subsequently freeze onto the surface of the hailstone, causing it to grow in size. They will only fall to the ground when the air currents inside the clouds can no longer support their weight, or if the up-draughts weaken. As gravity pulls them down towards the earth there is no time for them to melt, causing the showers of hail that we infrequently see. Pretty interesting!
Unlike the conditions throughout the week, today we saw sun and clear blue skies. Even in the coldest parts of winter, it’s during days like this that I love working outside. I jumped at the chance to spend some time outside after the recent spell of rubbish weather, grabbing the camera and heading out on patrol. I have to say, looking for, and taking photos of wildlife is something that I’ll never get bored of, even seeing the same animals over and over again, like the Robin that sat on a post maybe a metre or two away from where I was standing.
There really is a degree of excitement to this, especially in birdwatching. I can see the appeal, it almost reminds me of Pokémon, instead of catching them all, you gotta spot ’em all!