Fortean Snow

March 1, 2010

Pink snow! It began appearing over a several-block area of Buffalo’s Seneca-Babcock neighborhood in time for a colorful photo to appear on the front page of the Buffalo News (January 15, 2010).

Charles Fort would have loved it. Fort (1874–1932) enjoyed taunting “orthodox” scientists with things they supposedly could not explain, like cases of alleged “spontaneous human combustion” and fish raining from the sky. In short, he was a mystery-monger. (For a discussion of Fort and latter-day forteans, see my The Mystery Chronicles 2004, 335–340.)

In his 1919 The Book of the Damned (a compendium of “data that Science has excluded”), Fort cited black rains, red rains, and variously colored snows, including yellow and pink snow. Orthodox science explained many of these, respectively, as airborne soot from forest fires (or ash from volcanic eruptions), or red sand or pollen or other substances carried on the wind. (See The Complete Books of Charles Fort , New York: Dover, 1974, 3–80; and William R. Corliss, Handbook of Unusual Natural Phenomena , New York: Gramercy Books, 1995, 187–188, 193–194.)

My CFI colleague Lauren Becker also called my attention to a pink snow common to certain high mountain ranges of the western U.S. Called “watermelon snow,” it is due to “blooms” of certain species of algae having a bright red carotenoid pigment in their cells like that found in red peppers, tomatoes, autumn leaves, and many flowers.

Buffalo’s pink snow had a rather unique explanation. The cause was a ruptured pipe from a building being demolished near the former Buffalo Color plant where food coloring—red dye No. 40—had been manufactured. The pipe contained an estimated five pounds of the residual powder which was carried by the wind in a westerly direction and deposited onto nearby snow-covered streets and fields. There, my wife Diana Harris and I were able to witness this solved fortean phenomenon.