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Rime ice formed on the trees of Afton Mountain yesterday

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Last evening, fog and temperature conditions were just right for rime ice to form at altitude on Afton Mountain. Afton Mountain is usually a few degrees cooler than the surrounding lower areas like Charlottesville, and yesterday was no exception with car thermometer readings registering 31-32 degrees around 5:00 p.m., yesterday evening.

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According to the Cathy Bell, a park ranger and author of the website Homelandscapes, rime ice forms when cooled “liquid water droplets freeze on contact with cold surfaces,” as opposed to hoar frost which forms when “water vapor freezes, going directly from the gaseous state to the solid.”

Rime ice will form on the trees, while the surrounding grass and ground remains dry or free of moisture. Wind will also play a role in shaping the rime ice, forming crystals on sides of an object, rather than on its entire surface, as happens with hoar frost. Over time, with rime ice, the wind can grow the ice formations into random, rare forms of natural beauty.

Afton Mountain is about 20-30 minutes from Charlottesville on Interstate 64 (I-64) West, and offers panoramic views towards Charlottesville and Nelson County. Afton Mountain is also the gateway to both the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Skyline Drive, both of which offer up-close and personal hiking options as well as more motorist-friendly overlooks. If there’s no time for hiking in the mountains, the short drive to the Afton Mountain overlooks on I-64 West are the perfect fit for a quick mountain fix, in almost any kind of weather.

Motorist frequently stop at one of the two overlook areas to ponder the view. On and off ramps, as well as plenty of parking at the overlooks encourage this behavior. Both overlooks are on the east-bound side of I-64, and only minutes apart. Motorists driving from Charlottesville would have to take I-64 West to the Afton Mountain Exit 99 and then loop back around to the I-64 East bound lanes.

Yesterday, despite the cold, grey and dreary gentle falling rain, a routine drive from Charlottesville to Afton Mountain became stimulating, and other worldly past Crozet. At the base of Afton Mountain, a fog bank visibly set in, and puffy white ice crystal formations congregated around the tree line. The higher the climb up Afton Mountain, the more ice on the trees. But only on the trees, not on the ground.

Unimpeded, traffic continued to roll across the grey mountain, but perhaps the eye of each driver naturally wandered, and paused, drinking in and deeply appreciating a routine drive over the mountain made beautiful with rime ice. (For more images of rime ice from North Carolina, see “What is rime ice?”)

Today, the temps are still cold, but most of the ice has melted; the sun shines and the sky is blue. To catch the rime ice, one has to drive while the fog is out and the temps are bitter cold. It's early in the winter season yet; rime ice will form another day. Will you be watching?

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