Snowy mountain peaks with lake
Mar 15, 2016
Amanda O'Donovan


I was born in a country where rain is a common topic of conversation-a natural and frequent occurrence that unites, and often defines, an entire nation. I now live in a country where snow and ice dominate much of our landscape throughout the winter months. When I left England, although blissfully unaware of it at the time, my snow vocabulary was severely limited. Conversation would dry up beyond blizzard, sleet, slush and black ice. Had I been born in Scotland, I would have been well equipped for life in Canada. According to my BBC News app, academics have logged 421 Scottish words and expressions for the white stuff. Who knew that a flindrikin was a slight snow shower, that spitters are small flakes of wind-driven snow or that an unbrak is the start of a thaw?

Go Shovel Your Windrow

Some of my Canadian snow vocabulary was learned the hard way. During my first winter, having spent over an hour shovelling, I went inside for a comforting cup of tea. Minutes later, my heart sank when I saw the massive pile of snow blocking the end of our driveway. The windrow was a gift left by the snowplough as it cleared our street. On that day, I learned that timing is everything. A visit to Quebec City in February during Carnaval introduced us to snow angels, giant snow sculptures, a semi-frozen St. Lawrence Seaway, extreme cold warnings and wind chill factors. We also taught our daughters n to eat yellow snow.

Wintry Words

When the word sastrugi (ridges of snow formed by wind) showed up in my inbox thanks to, it got me wondering about all the winter expressions I’d accumulated over the years. For the fun of it, here’s a carefully curated selection:


Mixed Precipitation

Rain and partly melted snow, aka sleet.


Lake-Effect Snow

When cold air moves across warmer lake water.

Ice Pellets

Like hail stones, but smaller and more bouncy.


Thermal Underwear

A lifesaver when in snow for prolonged periods.

Freezing Rain

Liquid until it hits something colder.


Snow Pants

Insulated and waterproof.

Ice Storm

Freezing rain that leaves a pretty coating of ice.


Snow Shoes

Flotation devices to stop you sinking in deep snow.

Snow Fort

A hollowed out shelter (quinzhee) from a pile of snow.


Snow Day

The weather’s so bad school closes and parents scramble.


The sky and ground are the same colour, and visibility is poor.


Freeze-Thaw Cycle

The reason that Canada’s roads need constant repair.

Snow Squall

Sudden blowing snow.


Spring Run-Off

Large amounts of water when the snow melts.


Brief snow that doesn’t accumulate in layers.



What happens to planes before you take off in winter.


When it snows for days and layers pile up.


Ugly snow/dirt mix. Snow’s pretty until life happens.



Amanda O’Donovan is a Senior Content Writer + Communications Specialist, based in Toronto. You can contact her at 416.456.3859, or through LinkedIn