Thousands of Snowballs on This Siberian Beach Are Straight From a Fairy Tale

Residents of the Siberian village Nyda woke up to a magical appearance of snow orbs. But what really created them?

Nov 8 2016, 1:00pm

Snow boulders in Nyda, Siberia. Image: Instagram/ liliya7liya; Instagram/my_yamal

As someone who covers Siberia's endless supply of weird, natural phenomena, I'm thoroughly warmed by this recent story that has seemingly no connection to climate change, sad animals, or the coming of the end times.

Last week, residents of the Arctic village Nyda were treated to a rare sight at one of their local beaches. Like something out of a fairytale, thousands of large, spherical snowballs suddenly covered the ground after an especially heavy storm. The glistening orbs reached diameters of up to 10 inches, and so evenly lined the shore that one might've thought they'd been placed there by hand.

"We have them only in one place. It's as if someone spilled them. They are all of different sizes, from tennis balls to volleyball," resident Ekaterina Chernykh told the Siberian Times.

In reality, what actually happened was less Grimms-ian and more of a meteorological anomaly. Such snowballs can form when heavy snowfall is followed by a period of thawing, then, again, freezing. And like pieces of ocean glass, the hunks of ice are smoothed out by the rhythmic motion of the tide. Eventually, all that remains is a nearly-perfect boulder—or thousand—of perfectly packed snow and sand.

"All along the shore, lumps of snow and ice formed, and when the surf came in, strong waves started to break up masses of snow into small pieces and roll them in the sand. The pieces of ice started to grow. And so we get these balls of different sizes," a housing and social development official explained to the Moscow Times.

While local reports indicate this occurrence is a first for Nyda, snow boulders have been seen all the way from Sweden, where they were adorably likened to potato dumplings, to Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which witnessed a similar phenomenon in 2013.

In Michigan, meteorological experts theorized the same thing, stating that chunks of ice sheets had likely broken off and been pummeled by the waves until they formed into boulders.

There's doesn't appear to be a scientific name for beach snowballs, but this blogger claims that in Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island, they're referred to as "a lolly." Indeed, a dictionary of Cape Breton English, a regional variant of Canadian English, describes an analogous formation of "slush ice" that goes by the name of "lolly" or "lollie ice."

However, my favorite terminology has to come from this Redditor who once defined them as "snowman eggs."

Residents of Nyda said the snowballs are about two weeks old at this point. Visitors are now flocking to the beach to take photos and videos of the formations. So far, it doesn't seem like anyone has staged a massive snowball fight, but there's still time yet.

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