1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Frost

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FROST (a common Teutonic word, cf. Dutch, vorst, Ger. Frost, from the common Teutonic verb meaning “to freeze,” Dutch, vriezen, Ger. frieren; the Indo-European root is seen in Lat. pruina, hoar-frost, cf. prurire, to itch, burn, pruna, burning coal, Sansk. plush, to burn), in meteorology, the act, or agent of the process, of freezing; hence the terms “hoar-frost” and “white-frost” applied to visible frozen vapour formed on exposed surfaces. A frost can only occur when the surface temperature falls below 32° F., the freezing-point of water; if the temperature be between 28° and 32° it is a “light frost,” if below 28° it is a “heavy,” “killing” or “black frost”; the term “black frost” is also used when no hoar-frost is present. The number of degrees below freezing-point is termed “degrees of frost.” As soon as a mass of air is cooled to its dew-point, water begins to be precipitated in the form of rain, dew, snow or hail. Hoar-frost is only formed at the immediate surface of the land if the latter be at a temperature below 32°, and this may occur even when the temperature of the air a few feet above the ground is 12°-16° above the freezing-point. The heaviest hoar-frosts are formed under weather conditions similar to those under which the heaviest summer dews occur, namely, clear and calm nights, when there is no cloud to impede the radiation of heat from the surface of the land, which thereby becomes rapidly and completely cooled. The danger of frost is minimized when the soil is very moist, as for example after 10-12 mm. of rain; and it is a practice in America to flood fields on the receipt of a frost warning, radiation being checked by the light fog sheets which develop over moist soils, just as a cloud-layer in the upper atmosphere impedes radiation on a grand scale. A layer of smoke will also impede radiation locally, and to this end smoky fires are sometimes lit in such positions that the smoke may drift over planted ground which it is desirable to preserve from frost. Similarly, frost may occur in open country when a town, protected by its smoke-cloud above, is free of it. In a valley with fairly high and steep flanks frost sometimes occurs locally at the bottom, because the layer of air cooled by contact with the cold surface of the higher ground is heavier than that not so cooled, and therefore tends to flow or settle downwards along the slope of the land. When meteorological considerations point to a frost, an estimate of the night temperature may be obtained by multiplying the difference between the readings of the wet and dry bulb thermometer by 2.5 and subtracting the result from the dry bulb temperature. This rule applies when the evening air is at about 50° and 30.1 in. pressure, the sky being clear. An instrument has been devised in France for the prediction of frost. It consists of a wet bulb and a dry bulb thermometer, mounted on a board on which is also a scale of lines corresponding to degrees of the dry bulb, and a pointer traversing a scale graduated according to degrees of the wet bulb. Observations for the night are taken about half an hour before sunset. By means of the pointer and scale, the point may be found at which the line of the dry-bulb reading meets the pointer set to the reading of the wet bulb. The scale is further divided by colours so that the observed point may fall within one of three zones, indicating certain frost, probable frost or no probability of frost.