Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Happy Holidays! And, Finally Coloring More Icicles

Happy Holidays!  I hope everyone who is reading this is enjoying their holiday season.  White Christmases are in short supply this year, and New England is no exception - only the higher ground has any significant snow.  The Interior West is socked in with cold and snow, but Vermont is expecting yet another rainy, slushy, icy mess tomorrow. Burlington is expected to pick up enough rain and wet snow to make this the wettest year on record... and the same is true for most of the rest of Vermont.  It's been an eventful year for watershed issues in Vermont, especially during and after Hurricane Irene, but also with heavy spring melt floods in many areas.  However, so far this winter it has not been a good year for one of my favorite side projects - using food coloring to color icicles.  It's been quite cold at times, but the storms have come with warm air and brought mostly rain and few icicles.  Still, I've managed to find a few to color.





At one point I took matters into my own hands and created icicles using a milk carton with holes in it.






It worked!  Unfortunately this little shed is in a sunny south-facing location so by mid-morning on a sunny day the icicles fall off even if it is well below freezing.

And, lastly, here's water diffusing on an icy gravel road.


There's been lots of discussion on salt application to icy roads lately, but that's a subject for another post.  Meanwhile, enjoy the holidays!


  1. This is a cool project- that seems slightly odd to me (and a little bit unsatisfying) in its current state. Is there some back story or cultural context for making colored icicles that would help me appreciate the genre?

    Icicles get a lot bigger than those when conditions are right. On certain roofs in certain places I'm sure I've seen 'em get 6-8ft long and up to 10" in diameter. Seems to me you need to find the right north-facing roof edges, get creative in expanding your perforated milk carton design so you can dribble the colored water steadily throughout the night without freezing up your whole system (maybe an aquarium heater to keep the tank on the high side of 0degC?), and grow yourself some man-sized spears of colored ice. Phase 3 might be to harvest the things and build impressive icicle sculptures welded together with more ice. An icicle-Eiffel tower perhaps? Or an icicle-cathedral? Ice skeletons? Ice nests for ice birds? Or beautiful abstract 3D moire patterns?

    It's good for scientists to make art. It connects different parts of your brain in healthy ways. Sometimes the art connects other people's brains too. Rock on!

  2. Hi! Thanks for your comment!

    I saw a couple of places in Pennsylvania last winter where the icicles that form along roadcuts had been colored. I became interested in the idea and tried it out last winter, which was a very snowy one here in Vermont. The results last year were more successful than this year so far. I forgot to post the link in the blog post, but there are pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/inyo395/sets/72157625946712704/

    The milk carton was just a stopgap when there was no snow, and I don't think it works in the long term. Maybe it would be possible to keep the carton unfrozen by sticking one of those hand warmers on it. But, that location is never going to work very well because it gets strong morning sun which causes icicles to fall off even when well below freezing. We're finally getting some snow, so I plan to try some new things out with whatever icicles form.

    I've seen huge ice sculptures formed when people spray water at something overnight. It's very neat and maybe I'll try it someday but it isn't realistic while I'm, renting a place in town. I'm not sure if the landlords want a huge ice sculpture in the yard.

    Anyway, mostly the project is just for fun. Hopefully I find more things to do with it now that it is finally cold.