Snow Rollers in Central Illinois

People in central Illinois observed a strange phenomenon February 11 and 12, 2003.  Log-shaped "snowballs" showed up on lawns, fields, and other open areas.  This is a phenomenon referred to as "snow rollers".  These are formed under specific weather conditions:

  • The ground surface must have an icy, crusty snow, on which falling snow cannot stick.

  • About an inch or so of loose, wet snow must accumulate.

  • Gusty and strong winds are needed to scoop out chunks of snow.

Snowfall of 1 to 4 inches occurred across central Illinois the morning of February 11.  That evening, as a strong cold front pushed through the area, wind gusts of 40 to 60 mph were noted in many areas.

Once the initial "seed" of the roller is started, it begins to roll.  It collects additional snow from the ground as it rolls along, leaving trails behind it.  The appearance is similar to building snowmen, except the snowball is more log-shaped rather than spherical, and many times they are hollow.  They can be as small as a golf ball, or as large as a 30 gallon drum, but typically they are about 10 to 12 inches in diameter.

Several photographs have been provided of these snow rollers:

Snow roller near Petersburg
This snow roller picture was taken by NWS observer Paul White near Petersburg. 
The ruler indicates this snow roller was nearly 11 inches thick.

Snow roller on scale near Petersburg
Another snow roller near Petersburg.  The scale indicates that this roller
weighed nearly 5 pounds.

Snow Rollers near Lincoln
These snow rollers were photographed at the Lincoln Christian College, by NWS
personnel in Lincoln.  Tracks that the rollers took can be seen trailing behind. 
(The snow rollers generally moved in an eastward direction.)

Snow Rollers near Lincoln
Another image from the Lincoln Christian College.  Several dozen of these snow rollers were visible along Highway 10.

Snow rollers in Lincoln
These snow rollers were photographed at Scully Park in Lincoln.

Snow roller in Sherman
NWS employee Chris Geelhart took this picture in Sherman.

Snow rollers near Forsyth
NWS observer Paul Hadfield sent this picture from near Forsyth.

Snow rollers in Macon County
NWS employee Dan Kelly photographed these snow rollers in
rural Macon County.

Snow rollers in Macon County
Another view of snow rollers in Macon County.

Snow rollers near Buffalo
Karen Thompson photographed these snow rollers near Buffalo.

Snow rollers near Buffalo
Another picture of snow rollers near Buffalo.

A foot diameter snow roller in Buffalo, IL Feb 12 2003
Photo taken by Karen Thompson of Snow Rollers in Buffalo. is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.