The Planet

Tossing Boiling Water Into Freezing Air Creates This Beautifully Familiar Phenomenon

by Penn Collins

January 11, 2017

There aren’t a lot of perks when it comes to living in sub-freezing climates. Mostly, you just try to avoid the weather at all costs and wait for things to heat up. But when the temperature gets REALLY low, some strange, beautiful stuff takes place. 

Photographer Goran Sliskovic took to the harsh climate of Bosnia and Herzegovina to film a subject using the frigid air to create a thing of beauty

Carrying a pot of near-boiling water, the subject trudges out to the snow and throws the boiling water into the air, creating a beautiful, powdery arc of mist. 

Here’s the video: 

Now that we’ve enjoyed this wonderful visual, it’s time to a) explain why you shouldn’t try it and b) get into the science behind the phenomenon. 

First, the easy part – carrying a pot of boiling water through slippery snow and ice is very dangerous. Sure, it freezes almost instantly when sprayed into the air, but if you were to take a tumble, the result would be a little less whimsical. You’d have scalding-hot water on your lap and third-degree burns. That would probably also make for a very popular video, but not one you’d like to star in. Then there’s the fact that this exercise involves throwing hot water over your head. Frankly, I still don’t know how this guy managed to avoid tossing some in his eyes. You might not be so lucky. So just watch the video rather than attempting this. Feel free to talk about it as well. 

To that last point, you might want to know what exactly is happening here to create this glorious effect. For instance, does the water have to be boiling? Could be lukewarm tap water that’s safe for the whole family? 

Sadly, no. It needs to be pretty hot. Cold air is very dry and designing, meaning doesn’t have much capacity to hold air or steam. So when you toss boiling water into the air, you’re creating a lot of surface area from which the vapor can emit. In doing so very quickly, it quickly vaporizes then freezes, causing crystallization in the dramatic fashion shown in the video. 

This is essentially how snow is made. This similar effort by a man in Siberia on an elevated balcony shows just how snow-like this process can be: 

 

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Tossing Boiling Water Into Freezing Air Creates This Beautifully Familiar Phenomenon