The Strange Case of the Counterfeit Snow


This year I had the rare privilege of seeing a whole new conspiracy emerge from the primordial depths. About a month back, the United States was frozen in an unprecedented cold snap via a weather phenomenon rather awesomely called the “polar vortex.” Amidst the blizzards and the chilling frost, suspicious conspiracists decided, as with all things, that this was no accident. Sure enough, somebody got the bright idea to scoop up a snowball and hold a blowtorch to it to see what happened. Shock – it didn’t melt. It just faded away into nothing. Once again, the government was caught red handed. This was not real snow.

I say this is a new theory, but all theories in conspiracy culture share an interconnectedness. Weather related theories tend to connect to the master theory that the United States government is in possession of a weather machine. Of course, weather machines are one of the most ham-handed of stock comic book supervillain plots, but the reigning theory in conspiracy culture is that the weather controlling device is located at a facility called HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) in Alaska. This bizarre looking device is a high powered radio frequency transmitter composed of a wide field of antennas planted out in the wilderness. Its unclassified purpose is to analyze the ionosphere by beaming radio waves at it. Conspiracy theorists think it looks scary and weird, so they assume beyond a shadow of a doubt that its true purpose is to create and direct storms, hurricanes and blizzards, and even earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis.

Lex Luthor is the head of research.

Lex Luthor is the head of research.

Of course, this isn’t within the range of HAARP’s abilities, or even within the ability of known physics, but if it were, isn’t that exactly what I would say?

Conspiracists invoke HAARP every time a natural disaster occurs anywhere on Earth, from the Japanese tsunami to Hurricane Katrina, so of course the polar vortex is just another one of its projects. But that’s just the beginning of the story. Government weather control is inseparably linked to the master conspiracy that conspiracists refer to as “geoengineering,” or the creation of artificial weather phenomena for the purpose of either changing the composition of the atmosphere (as in John Carpenter’s They Live) or simply to poison humanity and depopulate the globe. This is the same class of beliefs that includes “chemtrails,” the idea that aircraft contrails are not clouds, but some kind of chemical spray. According to believers, everything is fake. The clouds are fake, the rain is fake, and now, inevitably, the snow is fake.

As with all these kinds of theories, it’s derived from someone noticing something a little unexpected that they don’t understand. Rather than assume that natural phenomena is more complex than their limited understanding realized, they compare their new observation with their expected outcome, and reject what their own eyes tell them in favor of their established belief. The discrepancy can only be explained by conspiracy. In this case, when you hold a flame to a snowball, you expect it to melt into water. It doesn’t. Therefore, conspiracy. This ain’t snow.

Dozens of conspiracists flocked to YouTube to show their amazing discovery to the world, demonstrating with lighters and blowtorches how this fake snow doesn’t melt, and in some cases it even burns and blackens and gives off an offensive, plastic-like odor.

Weeeird, right? Of course, the science of melting snow is more complicated than the simple knowledge that ice melts into water. Snow does indeed melt into water, as the conspiracists will no doubt discover when the weather warms up and the snow becomes slush. But setting fire to it won’t necessarily create a spectacular result, for either of two reasons:

First of all, snow is very low density. It’s fluffy, like cotton candy. And just like cotton candy, when you take a large mouthful and bite down, you find that you’re actually chewing about a quarter of a gram of sugar. When you hold a lighter flame to a ball of snow, it might look like it’s disappearing rather than melting, but only because there’s such a small amount of actual water in it that you can’t see it. The low density snow “wicks up” the water so that it turns into slush long before it turns into a puddle. If any of these snow melters actually went through with melting the whole thing, they would indeed find normal water in the end. Of course, they wouldn’t think it was normal water so much as some kind of chem water.

But nobody melts a whole snowball. They’re too excited. They pull out the blowtorch, and that’s when the snow starts to blacken and stink like burnt plastic! Chemsnow!

Something more interesting happens when you apply very hot temperatures to ice – it’s called sublimation, and it’s what happens when a solid turns directly into a gas without going through a liquid phase. It doesn’t have time to turn into a liquid because you’re scorching the shit out of it. And as for the blackening and the offensive odor? Turns out that’s butane. You know, the gas that you’re using to create a flame. Anything blackens when you blast it with a blowtorch. Try it at home and you’ll discover all sorts of chemspoons, chembottles and chemteacups. How deep does this conspiracy go?

Of course, it is the nature of conspiracy theorists that they will decide that scientists invented the concepts of sublimation and snow density ages ago in order to help cover it up when they finally decided to drown the world in chemsnow. This explanation won’t change any minds, but I leave it here to document another episode in the evolution of conspiracism.