You may have noticed how everything seems calmer and quieter when it’s snowing than during other periods of the year? What kind of an effect does snow have on the sounds of the environment?
The following four answers give in-detail explanations of the science behind this occurrence.
Snow is really good at absorbing sounds, similar to what foam does in a recording studio or radio studio.
In addition, the sounds you’d typically associate with being outside are hampered by the presence of snow.
The sound of wind blowing is more likely to be leaves or other debris blowing around. That’s all pinned to the ground by snow.
And birds/ insects aren’t going to be chirping as part of their mating rituals because it’s too cold for that.
In addition to more sound being absorbed, it might actually be quieter, especially if you live in a city and somewhere that it does not snow often. Fewer people will make journeys, less road noise, fewer people out on the street.
All of the roads, sidewalks, rooftops, and other hard surfaces that normally reflect sound are now covered in soft, fluffy snow that absorbs and muffles sound.
The effect is basically equivalent to putting sound-deadening foam on the walls of a recording studio.
In addition to the sound deadening effects – if it’s snowed and then there’s an ice storm, or a sunny winter day followed by a freezing night, all that snow can get a very hard coating of ice on it – low frequencies can pass through that and into the snow beneath, higher frequencies bounce off of it, making the overall soundscape sound “brittle”, with higher frequencies bouncing all around. Post-ice storm sound has its own unique signature.
When sound moves between materials, it deposits some of it’s energy into that material. Each snowflake takes up a little bit of the energy of sound. So while it’s snowing, the sky is sucking up all the sound.
Now while it’s snowing, there is often a reduction in the amount of stuff going on outside. Fewer cars, fewer people. So there’s less sound to reach you in the first place.
This effect also happens in fog and rain. I was at a concert a few years ago… Foo Fighters, if you wanna know. And a rainstorm came in. The rain, wasn’t loud, but completely stopped the sound of the concert from reaching the end of the field I was enjoying the show from.
NASA also uses water as a sound suppression system for rockets.