Behold winter in rural Ohio

By Bruce Stambaugh

On the coldest day of the young year, winter gave us an icy gift to salve our longings for warmth. The landscape in rural northeast Ohio glistened with delight.

Some call it a quirk of nature. Others know the weather phenomenon as hoar frost. Most ignore the verbiage and science and just enjoy the beauty while it lasts. Like any other meteorological event, nature has a recipe for hoar frost, but it’s more bureaucratic than tasty.

The National Weather Service describes hoar frost as a deposit of interlocking crystals formed by direct sublimation on objects, usually those of small diameter freely exposed to the air, such as tree branches, plants, wires, poles, etc. The deposition of hoar frost is similar to the process by which dew is formed, except that the temperature of the frosted object must be below freezing. It forms when air with a dew point below freezing is brought to saturation by cooling.

No doubt the younger generation would have a one-word answer for that gobbledygook: whatever. Besides, like a double-chocolate layer cake, hoar frost is much better consumed than defined. Only you use your eyes rather than your mouth, unless you happen to be out and about when the icy icing is spread.

On this particular Sunday morning, many people were. They reaped both the benefits and the drawbacks of passing through Creation’s cold kitchen as the raw rarity was being concocted.

Witnesses, who preferred to remain anonymous, said they bundled up for a brisk walk or buggy ride to church. Brisk is a bit too bland. It was downright frigid, five degrees below zero just after sunrise. What a sunrise it was, too, dark one minute and light the next. The sun seemed to skip the formalities and simply bounded over the cloudless horizon, exceedingly anxious to warm up the frozen countryside.

Instantly invisible sunbeams awakened a million diamonds across the snowscape. It was as if the snowy blanket had turned completely into a sparkly sequined gown. But that was only the appetizer for this organic, outdoor brunch.

Everything, and I do mean everything, was covered with a breathtaking whiteness, fresher than the day itself. Evergreens were transformed ever white. The bare deciduous trees were plastered trunk to tip as if they had been spray-painted. Dazzling is too tame of a word to describe the scene, which suddenly grayed.

The snow ceased gleaming as quickly as it had started. The brilliance diminished considerably. Drawn to the window by this abrupt turn of events, I quickly saw the reason for both the diminution and the hoar frost itself. A huge, elongated ice cloud had obscured the sun, but only temporarily.

This ghostly mass had risen from the creek bottoms and deposited its pretty icy prickles as it went. Indeed, it was on the move. Those pedestrians or buggy-goers who had no choice but to pass through the crystallized cloud went in one foggy door wearing black and out the other as ashen apparitions. Hoar frost coated brown horses and men’s beards alike.

Eventually the sun won out, even in the super cold air. The ice fog just vanished, evaporated into nothingness. As the morning continued to warm, the frozen saturation succumbed, falling like sheets of snow.

The bright morning sun had burned off a lingering mist, revealing a glistening glaze affixed to every animate and inanimate object in its path, while diamonds danced on the endless blanket of snow. Behold the unfolding glories of winter in Ohio.

Contact Bruce Stambaugh at

Hoar frost defined
Hoar frost on display
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