Outdoors

A spectacular outdoor show

Wildside column: Riming leaves works of art

Rime-coated pine boughs frame the rising sun as it cuts through fog Tuesday morning in southern Buchanan County. (Orlan
Rime-coated pine boughs frame the rising sun as it cuts through fog Tuesday morning in southern Buchanan County. (Orlan Love/correspondent)
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The recent riming of Eastern Iowa provided an interlude of shining beauty in an otherwise dull and dreary winter.

Chronic fog freezing on cold vegetation last week covered the landscape in dazzling white crystals, creating vistas that in their cool brilliance rivaled the red and gold warmth of fall foliage and the budding promise of spring green woods.

Besides providing eye candy for nature lovers, the phenomenon gave meteorologists a chance to explain the difference between rime — frost formed on cold objects by the rapid freezing of water vapor in fog — and hoar frost — frozen water vapor formed in clear, still weather.

For the record, rime is caused by a phase change from supercooled liquid water to ice, while hoar frost’s phase change is from water vapor directly to ice.

To the untrained eye, rime and hoar frost look alike. Either way, the trees are flocked.

Winter rarely provides such beauty. Fresh snow is pretty for a day or two. Then it thaws and freezes, gets tracked up and dirty, and we wish it were gone.

When we do get a good riming, it seldom lasts. Like vampires, rime can’t stand much sun and, like me, it can’t stand much wind.

But last week the cool fog persisted from Sunday through Tuesday, and the delicate rime crystals kept growing.

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The fog that helped form the rime also limited visibility and blocked the sun so the splendor of the bejeweled earth could not be fully appreciated until the sun burst forth Tuesday morning, turning a gray world luminous white.

Unlike the scenic isles in a mundane ocean that attract our attention in other seasons, the rime was everywhere at once, and eyes strained and darted to take it all in before it was gone.

The rime transformed forlorn hardwoods, their skeletal branches formerly silhouetted against a gray sky, into glistening works of art. Native grasses bowed under the weight of jeweled encrustation.

It was a great equalizer, glorifying coarse cattails, horse weeds and corn stubble along with delicate native grasses and stately pines and oaks.

When recalling years past, I and others often associate them with memorable weather events.

Though most years blur in retrospect, we vividly remember the spring blizzard of 1973, the floods of 1993 and 2008, the drought of 2012 and the derecho of 2020.

While we tend to forget pretty days and remember catastrophes, here’s hoping nothing comes along later this year to prevent our thinking of 2021 as the year of the spectacular riming.

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