Is it safe to eat snow? That depends

Weather Blog

This photo, provided by the New York State Police, shows a car, in Oswego, NY, from which a New York State Police sergeant rescued Kevin Kresen, 58, of Candor, NY, stranded for 10 hours, covered by nearly 4 feet of snow thrown by a plow during this week’s storm. Authorities say the New York State Police sergeant rescued Kresen stranded for hours in a car covered by nearly 4 feet of snow thrown by a plow during this week’s storm. The 58-year-old Candor man drove off the road and got plowed in by a truck. (New York State Police via AP)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Snow is nice and refreshing, ice cold, and can come in abundance in the winter.

But is it safe to eat? There are a lot of different factors to take into account before diving into a pile of fresh snow.

The water cycle is important when thinking about what could be in snow. Remember that ponds, streams, creeks, lakes, and nearly every liquid form evaporates into the atmosphere. Those droplets may eventually form a cloud. That cloud, once thick enough, precipitates, often starting as snow and changing over to rain, staying as snow, or evolving as some other type of precipitation.

These snowflakes (or water droplets) will contain certain amounts of whatever was picked up from the ground because of evaporation. Within the cloud, water droplets and ice crystals form on what’s called cloud condensation nuclei (CCN). CCN can be just about any small particle suspended in the air. Here are a few things that could potentially be in snow:

  1. Exhaust particles from a car tailpipe
  2. Animal urine
  3. Smoke from fires or wood burning stoves
  4. Industrial waste emission from coal plants
  5. Pesticides/herbicides from farming practices

Crystallization of snow does have a ‘sterilizing’ effect, so the pollutant levels are generally low, according to Science Notes. It is important, though, to make sure to get the right kind, if you do want a taste of snow. Anything other than completely white snow should be avoided as well.

The first inch or so can pick up pollutants and microbes from the ground. Go for freshly fallen snow after the initial inch or so has fallen. Also try to go for snow recently after the storm event is over. After half a day, the snow can collect bad bacteria.

WHAT TO AVOID

It may seem obvious, but you should avoid plowed snow. Some scientists say you should avoid snow if you live in a city, as there will be higher concentrations of toxins in the snow. Watch out if it is windy. Falling snow can pick up dirt and particles if winds are higher. Avoid snow if it was sitting on a porch, tree, or other plant. Stay away from snow that fell near a highway or major roadway.


In most cases, snow can be eaten safely in small quantities if the right precautions are taken. It is unlikely that such small quantities will have any impact on health. According to the CDC, if you really are in a pinch and without water, you can collect it and bring it to a boil for one minute, then cool it back down to a temperature you can consume.

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