Red Snow is Falling Down (seriously)

Dante and Virgil witness the of Torture of Fiery Rain. Gustave Dore

So I'm currently reading an excellent article by Professor Randy Cerveny on the meteorology of Dante's Inferno and he mentions something I'd never heard of: red snow.

Cerveny comments on the precipitation Dante describes in Hell's Plain of Burning sands, pointing out that blood snows are not uncommon in medieval writing:

"Fiery" red snowflakes? Oddly enough, something similar-although rare-might have been witnessed throughout history. As far back as the third century BCE, Aristotle reported on the occurrence of red or "blood" snow. A few centuries later, the Roman historian Pliny originated the unique idea that the occasional red color in snow is the equivalent of rust!

He goes on to mention other reported incidents in Europe and the United States, on up until the end of the 19th century. The cause of such strange snow? The uplift and transfer of reddish sand particles.

Remember, as related in "How Weather Works," particles like this serve as condensation nuclei in raindrops and snowflakes. If the particles are red, then the resulting snow may fall red as well -- perhaps hundreds of miles from the initial uplift.

Of course, as Cerveny points out, the condensation nuclei in Hell would be actual bits of blood and gore from the boiling, sanguine River Phlegyas.

But expect more information on that in our upcoming podcast episode "The Science of Hell."

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.