What Is the Difference Between Ice and Snow?

Frost pattern on window
Frost pattern on window. Getty Images/michael1959

Ice and snow are two of the solid forms of water, H2O, but they aren't one and the same.

What Is Ice?

Ice is the word for the solid form of water, regardless of how or where it formed or how the water molecules are stacked together. Frost is ice. Ice cubes are ice. Snow is a form of ice.

What Is Snow?

Snow is the word for precipitation that falls as frozen water. If the water forms crystals, you get snowflakes. Other types of snow include rime and graupel, which are ice, but not crystals. You can think of snow as ice that falls from the sky. Many people think of snow strictly in terms of snow crystals, which are formed when water molecules bond together into a crystal pattern, similar to carbon forming a diamond.

Snow Versus Frost

Both frost and snow grow from water vapor in the air. However, snow forms high in the atmosphere around tiny suspended particles (e.g., dust), while frost forms close to the ground on a solid surface. Surfaces on which frost forms include glass and window panes.

Interesting Facts About Snow and Ice