Snowflake anatomy

Post by Jen Berlinghof

My family and I spent the beginning of the new year in the Northwoods. We wanted quiet. We wanted nature. Most of all, we wanted snow. As we started out on a snowshoe trek to a nearby river, tiny snowflakes settled on my son’s navy blue parka. They seemed to freeze on contact for only a few seconds, forming miniature constellations, before melting into temporary teardrop stains. The filigree of each flake in those hushed, fleeting moments fascinated both of my boys.


While most of us would call this a snowflake, scientists define it more aptly as a snow crystal. A snow crystal forms in a cloud when water vapor converts directly into ice without making a pit stop at its liquid form. A marvelous snow crystal, like the one above, begins as a single hexagonal prism called a seed crystal. This seed crystal latches to a speck of dust before taking a trip through the cloud. The path the crystal takes on this journey determines what it will ultimately look like when it falls to the earth.


As a snow crystal travels through a cloud, it encounters a variety of temperatures and humidity levels. As water vapor is continually converting to ice along this path, more crystals latch to the seed crystal, sprouting branches from each of its six corners and the snow crystal grows. Each individual crystal takes its own unique pathway through a cloud, its arms growing in synchrony, resulting in a one-of-a kind “snowflake” every time.

snowflake-copyright-dick-toddThe exact humidity level and temperature within the cloud as it forms determines the general shape and pattern of a snow crystal. Lower humidity typically yields a simple plate or block pattern, while higher humidity creates more ornate, branched crystals that come to mind when most of us think of snowflakes.


Like a tree’s rings that tell the story of what was happening in the forest with each layer of growth, snow crystals grow from the inside out, too. Each new branch or plate tells the story of the cloud conditions.The wonder and mystery of falling snowflakes still intrigues the scientific world. Scientists are still puzzled about why snowflakes form such different shapes in these different meteorological conditions.

screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-11-50-48-amWith flurries predicted for these last few days of January, now is the perfect time to venture out into our Lake County Forest Preserves and experience our winter programs that take advantage of what nature offers when temperatures drop and snow accumulates. Be sure to check our Winter Sports Updates or call our Winter Sports Hotline at 847-968-3235 to check trail conditions for ice skating, sledding, ice fishing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing. Go ahead—find some quiet, some nature, and hopefully some snow!

Aerial view of a snowy woodland. Photo © Lake County Forest Preserves.

Turtle Champions

Post by Allison Frederick

109 adopted turtles!

bltu-20161104-004Our inaugural campaign to enhance conservation efforts and further protect an endangered species was a huge success. Donations poured in from Lake County and beyond (as far away as California!) to adopt baby Blanding’s turtles, allowing us to continue our head-starting program and field work next summer. Continue reading

Halloween Hikes—30 years and counting…

Post by Jen “Blanding’s Turtle” Berlinghof


This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Lake County Forest Preserves’ popular Halloween Hikes at Ryerson Conservation Area. This event is a witch’s potion of sorts: a dash of theater, a drop of night hike, a splash of environmental education, and a heap of old-fashioned family fun. Continue reading

Des Plaines River Trail Challenge

Post by Jen Berlinghof

The trail is complete! The final section of the Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway was completed in late 2015. This fulfills a vision 54 years in the making—an unbroken greenway along the Des Plaines River. The contiguous 31.4-mile trail spans the entire length of Lake County, Illinois. To celebrate this amazing gem, we at the Lake County Forest Preserves are challenging you to travel the entire length as part of our Des Plaines River Trail Challenge. Last year, Allison and I hiked the entire trail and chronicled it here on the blog. This month, we’re taking you on the water with us to highlight the lifeblood of this vision—the river itself.


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Hordes of hummingbirds

Post by Jen Berlinghof

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For me, most days on the job consist of time in my “office” outdoors—a woodland, prairie or wetland in the Lake County Forest Preserves—with my “clients”—students, teachers, and families interested in learning more about local nature. On those rare days spent plunking away at a computer indoors, the photo above is my view. Recently, this view is bustling with activity, as hordes of ruby-throated hummingbirds buzz around the feeders, bulking up for a long flight south.

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Dwindling lights

Post by Jen Berlinghof

At a recent Firefly Campfire at Ryerson Conservation Area, kids and adults alike were flitting around, as fast as the fireflies they were trying to catch. For many of the children, this was their first time experiencing the age-old summer tradition of capturing living light. While the woods that night sparkled like the fourth of July, many of the adults lamented that their yards didn’t have many fireflies—certainly not like the numbers they remembered chasing as children. Turns out they may be on to something.

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Widespread anecdotal evidence of these dwindling evening displays have prompted scientists to take a look at possible reasons. One big culprit to the demise of these bioluminescent beetles seems to be the one thing that makes them so special: light. Continue reading