The Beauty of Rime Ice
by Kelvin Taylor
March 2006
What happens to water when the temperature falls to or below 32 degrees F? It freezes right?
Well, not necessarily. Water molecules need something – a nucleus – to grab onto in order to
form ice crystals. These microscopic nuclei, which can be dust, smoke, or any very tiny solid
particle provide the impetus for freezing. Even in temperatures well below freezing, water droplets
can remain in liquid state, and are known as supercooled droplets.

In winter when a cloud of these supercooled water droplets comes in contact with exposed
objects like branches of trees, they immediately freeze into a milky deposit called rime ice. The
branches are the nuclei by which the droplets can now crystallize (freeze), and the result is a
stunning transformation of the mountain landscape.
Max Patch NC
Photo by SCJack © 2006
These beautiful yet fragile patterns are very delicate. The bright white colour of rime ice verus
“clear ice” comes from the fact air is trapped within the structure as it grows sometimes at a
rate of more than a foot per hour! It’s a frequent wintertime event in the Appalachian
Mountains whose forested peaks are often shrouded in clouds. Notice there is no snow on
the ground just the trees covered in rime ice.
Trail at Max Patch NC
Photo by SCJack © 2006
Max Patch view
Photo by Rich Stevenson © 2006
Scenic Max Patch Mountain sits upon a high knob overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains and
the Black Mountains. The 350 acres was purchased in order to relocate the Appalachian Trail off
the highway and onto national forest service land. The elevation here is about 4,500 feet.

Drive directions: From I-40 take Exit 7 Harmon Den (NC). Turn left at end of exit ramp onto
gravel road. Follow this road for about 6 miles then turn left until it ends. Turn left onto Max
Patch Road, the parking area is about 2.5 miles on right. There is a loop trail of 1 mile just for
Max Patch.

For more images of Max Patch winter scenery check out these galleries by
SCJack and Rich

The Weather Notebook by Bryan Yeaton
How Rime Ice Forms WGN9 Chicago Weather Center Blog.