How Does Snow Muffle Sound?

Sound travels in mechanical waves, and in order for something to make noise, physical molecules — gas, liquid or solid — must be jiggled around in order for sound to be transmitted. Temperature also affects how quickly sound waves can move: They speed up in warmer weather and slow down when it gets cold. Not only can sound waves in cold weather be a little sluggish, falling snow can interfere with them, making sounds in a winter wonderland seem muffled.

A blanket of fresh snow also does a lot to dampen noise. Sound absorption is measured using a scale called sound absorption coefficient alpha (α), which measures how well a material absorbs sound on a scale from 0 to 1. The sound absorption rating for snow is in between 0.5 to 0.9, which means, at its most effective, a few inches of new fallen snow provides an impressive amount of acoustic insulation for a lot of different frequencies of sound. One study, published in 2016 in ScienceDaily, found that a couple inches of snow can absorb roughly 60 percent of ambient sound.

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