Photo of snowy Sussex woodland trail Photo of snowy Sussex woodland trail

Nieves Penitentes – A Rare Snow Compass

Photo: Mark Sanderson

Nieves penitentes are an unusual snow formation, found only in dry air at high altitudes in areas exposed to intense sunlight.

In the right conditions thin blades of snow form and point towards the sun. And since anything oriented towards the sun can be used for navigation, these blades make one of nature’s rarer compasses. Typically this snow compass points south in the northern hemisphere and north in the southern.

The Spanish name means ‘snow penitents’, because they resemble monks in tall white robes with hooded pointed hats, the capirotes.

Penitents process in Palma, Mallorca.
Photo: Jaime Reina

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