The science behind frost patterns

By Australian Geographic 25 August 2021
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Sure, the frost on your windscreen is a pain, but check out this work of art, courtesy of Mother Nature.

These images were captured by Natalie Eiser in Castle Forbes Bay in the Huon Valley of Tasmania.

“Initially I thought I was seeing things, as it only happened to my car, not the other vehicles right beside it,” Natalie says. “So, I got inside the car to see if it was ‘real’. Inside it was like being underwater with white seaweed all around, as I have a glazed roof light in my car that was also bedazzled. 

“Nature is an amazingly creative force.”

These intricate frost patterns have a simple explanation.

“The patterns are the result of very tiny imperfections in the glass, such as scratches, specks of dust and salt, or the residue from washer fluid,” says Chloe Moore from the Royal Meteorological Society in an article for the BBC.

“These variations in the surface affect the way that the ice crystals form and branch out, forming the beautiful patterns.”

(Image credits: Natalie Eiser)

Tips on defrosting a car windscreen

Do use cold or lukewarm water to quickly remove frost or snow from your windscreen.

Don’t use hot or boiling water as the rapid change in temperature can cause the glass to crack.

Do turn on your car’s heating, including the front and rear windscreen heaters, and turn on the air conditioner if you have one. The air con will remove moisture from the air and help keep the windows free from fog.

Don’t leave you car unattended when the engine is on. For safety reasons you should always stay with your car if the engine is running, it’s also a legal requirement in Tassie.

Do use a plastic scraper or cloth to speed up the process while waiting for the car heaters to work their magic.

Don’t use a metal scraper as it may scratch the windscreen. Avoid the temptation of using a credit card as it may get damaged in the process.

Do make sure all your windows are free from ice and fog before you head off. 

Don’t make a “porthole” to see through so you can get on the road faster. It’s illegal to drive without a clear view from the front, back and sides of your car.

Information from RACT.