It's getting colder, and when it finally dips below freezing at night for a long period of time, central Illinois will experience its first frost of the year. Frost is rather subtle, and you usually only notice it when it first happens. The main hallmarks of winter are the snow and cold winds, so people often forget that frost is the precursor to what's coming in winter. I know I will notice it soon, when I get up to leave for class and I find my bike covered in frost. That will be an adventure.
The most common type of frost
There are many different kinds of frost, and all of them are beautiful. Some are more damaging than others, but most frost is relatively harmless. The most common kind of frost is hoar frost, and this is the frost that gathers on most trees and plants. It is most noticeable when it covers entire trees, making them seem as if they are covered in crystal. And really, they are covered in crystal.
Ice is basically the crystalline structure of water, and while it is not a rock, it still has a rock-like structure and forms a regular pattern of atoms, which creates the crystal structure. Hoar frost can also form on spiderwebs, wires and on top of snow in addition to forming on plant material, and is a brilliant sight to see. It can be bad economically, because it can often wipe out crops, but if you are not a farmer, you might not be familiar with or affected by this.
Another kind of frost is window frost, and this is especially noticeable if you're a driver. This kind of frost is more of an annoyance than hoar frost, at least for the average person. It is no picnic to get up in the wee hours of the morning only to have to scrape your windows for half an hour before you can go anywhere. Aside from the annoyances, however, window frost looks very nice on a house window, especially with some light. It forms spiderlike tendrils across the window, and often branches out to look like fern leaves.
A third type is rime frost. Rime frost tends to be much more solid than hoar and window frost. It forms a solid coating of ice around its host object, commonly on the hulls of ships. It forms when water cools extremely fast, and commonly occurs when a very drastic change of temperature is involved. The solidity comes from how fast it cools; hoar frost and window frost are more feathery because they take a very long time to cool.
Soon, it will may be possible to see all these kinds of frost in central Illinois. One of these mornings, we will wake up to elaborately formed ice crystals all over everything, and they are undeniably stunning. Even if we have to scrape them off the car window.