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Forum Communications, Published December 29 2012

Ice flowers? Ice ribbons? No matter the name, they’ve been out in force

DULUTH, Minn. - They’ve been called ice flowers, ice ribbons, ice grass and frost flowers.

Whatever the name, the delicate, frosty formations are a special sight — and one that some lucky residents of Minnesota and Wisconsin have spotted in recent weeks, thanks to our dry and cold conditions.

Theresa Kocka of Hayward spotted ice flowers on Christmas morning along the Chief River in Sawyer County — a Christmas gift of sorts from Mother Nature. Kocka, who snapped a few photos of the phenomenon, said she had never seen them before.

Leslie Holmstrom, who lives on the east side of Island Lake north of Duluth, found a patch of “beautiful” ice flowers on the lake while exploring the ice Thursday with granddaughters Laura and Anna Holmstrom, ages 8 and 4. The crystalline structures vanished amid the new snow that fell Friday morning, Holmstrom said.

Other News Tribune readers reported seeing them in the past couple weeks on Rice Lake north of Duluth, on Hartley Pond in Duluth, and on Gunflint Lake and Sawbill Lake in the Boundary Waters.

And Gary Bahn of Alexandria, Minn., came across a field of ice flowers on Lake Mary in western Minnesota earlier this month.

“I was going out to my fish house that morning, and I had never seen anything like it before on the ice,” Bahn said in an e-mail. “Then, a few days later on ABC’s World News with Diane Sawyer, they had a quick blip with pictures of the same thing, taken up at the North Pole. They called them ice flowers.”

They aren’t actually flowers, of course.

National Public Radio referred to them as more like ice sculptures that grow on the border between the water and air.

The ideal conditions for the “flowers” to bloom are when the air is extremely cold and extremely dry.

NPR explained the formations this way:

The dry air pulls moisture off the ice; bits of ice vaporize and the air gets humid, but only for a little while. The cold air makes water vapor heavy. The air wants to release that weight, so crystal by crystal, the water vapor turns back into ice, creating delicate, feathery tendrils that can reach several inches high.

The result is the frozen lake or stream blossoms.

More ice flowers may form on local waterways in the coming week as mostly dry and cold conditions are forecast into the new year.