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Rime with Reason


When the air around you is minus 20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees F), what will it take to appreciate natural scenery? Most of the time, spirits remain understandably low in chilly winds, and appetite for visual treats is hard to find. Still, at least one icy resident manages to touch its viewers consistently even on the coldest mornings: hard rime.

Popularly known as ‘snow willow’ or ‘ice flower,’ rime is a common natural phenomenon during northern China’s brutally cold winters. It is white ice that forms when water droplets from fog freeze on the outer surface of objects, such as electrical wires and twigs. Jilin City of northeastern China’s Jilin Province is the most renowned rime-spotting place in the country. Considered one of the four natural wonders of China, Jilin rime attracts healthy numbers of tourists every year.

Rugged Roads

January and February are the most common months to look for rime. For those curious enough to brave subzero temperatures, a weekend in Jilin is a worthwhile trip because even if visitors are deprived of the rime, they can enjoy other fantastic white scenery. In the middle of the region’s Songhua River is a piece of land known as Wusong Island (literally Rime Island), in the suburbs of Jilin City. The islet is just downstream from a large reservoir. Since the Jilin stretch of the Songhua River never freezes, it produces substantial vapor, enabling prolific formations of rimes.

Hantun, a small village next to Wusong Island, is home to only several dozen households. But thanks to abundant tourism resources provided by the island, more than 10 families were able to open hotels, allowing tourists to experience features of the northeastern lifestyle such as its cuisine and famous heated brick beds. The family-run hotels have the capacity to host 1,000 tourists at a time. When we arrived, the locals explained that strong winds prevented rime from forming for a few days.

A specific category of frost, rime is an accumulation of granular ice tufts on the windward sides of objects after fog or clouds are supercooled by the wind. Due to precise conditions the phenomenon requires, rime appears only occasionally and in varying locations. Every winter, more fortunate tourists are delighted when they happen upon it while others patiently wait for days. From the center of a ice-free section of the Songhua River, Wusong Island receives an abundance of vapor every morning, which makes the probability of finding rime there exponentially higher than elsewhere. However, if wind is too strong or temperature isn’t exactly right, rime is nowhere to be found.

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