Melting Snow for Water

| 12/20/2012 12:03:17 PM

 Photo 1 

Have you ever heard the old quip, "pure as the wind driven snow?"  Well, it doesn't hold true in these parts!  When the wind blows and the snow falls here we end up with snow that's full of pine needles, leaves, lichen and sometimes soot. 

We don't know everything about melting snow for water but since most of our water in the winter time comes from melted snow we’ve learned a few things to make the job easier and more efficient. 

First, it takes a lot of snow to make a gallon of water.  It would be nice if there was a formula involved like "four quarts of snow equals one quart of water" but it isn't that simple.  Any avid skier can tell you that there are different kinds of snow.  Warm, heavy, wet snow and corn snow have a higher moisture content than cold, dry, fluffy snow.  In addition cold snow doesn't pack as tightly as warm snow.  Old snow also has more moisture by volume than new snow because it's had time to compress and may have gone through some thaw cycles which make it denser.  What this means is that if you need one quart of water the amount of snow you'll have to melt may vary greatly depending upon the time of year, the location, the age of the snow and the temperature. 

One way to estimate the moisture content of the snow you're melting is by weight.  Say you're using a one gallon container.  One gallon (US measure) of water weighs approximately 8.3 pounds.  If the snow in your one gallon container weighs four pounds then the water content of the snow is almost 50 percent which means it will take two gallons of snow to make one gallon of water.  The water content of most snow is way, way, way below that but you get the idea of how to get a quick estimate of the amount of snow you're going to have to melt to meet your needs.

Second, whether melting snow at home or while camping in the woods use the largest container you have!   I love my canteen cups but in winter, even when backpacking, try to include a large, lightweight pot for melting snow.  It makes the job go much faster.

12/22/2012 1:10:19 PM

Steven, excellent post on the art of using melted snow. Personally, I hope I never have to get down to the level of using snow for water but it's all good information to know. We just got our first snow here in Nebraska. It's been a wonderful sight and experience for me but not so much for the other urbanites that have cubical jobs. It's great to be able to watch the neighbors trying to scramble to work through the snow while I watch from my living room window sipping on a cup of coffee. I have a snow blower but most of the time I just like to shovel it by hand and enjoy the scenery and urban wildlife. Having a noisy snow blower at work kind of drowns out all that. Have a great snow melting day.

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