Last week, residents along the Gulf of Ob, an area in central Siberia above the Arctic circle, found something strange on the beach: an 11-mile stretch of snowballs, reports The Siberian Times.
No one in the town of Nyda, the closest to the snowball-covered shoreline, remembers the phenomenon occurring before. “We have them only in one place. It’s as if someone spilled them. They are all of different sizes, from tennis balls to volleyballs. We all were very surprised,” local Ekaterina Chernykh tells the newspaper. “Many people believed it only when [they] saw with [their] own eyes. This has not happened previously. And there was not so much snow for them to form. It’s so interesting.”
Sergei Lisenkov, press secretary of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, gave an explanation for the snowballs on television, the BBC reports. “As a rule, first there is a primary natural phenomenon—sludge ice, slob ice. Then comes a combination of the effects of the wind, the lay of the coastline, and the temperature and wind conditions. It can be such an original combination that it results in the formation of balls like these.”
The BBC adds that the balls “result from a rare environmental process where small pieces of ice form, are rolled by wind and water, and end up as giant snowballs.”
It’s the first time the icy orbs have been reported in Siberia, but a similar effects have been recorded elsewhere. In 2013, beach bal-sized ice balls washed up along the shore of Lake Michigan, some of them weighing up to 75 pounds, reports Sue Thomas at MLive. At the time, Park Ranger Amie Lipscomb explained that those ice orbs form when chunks break off larger ice sheets. Waves round and smooth each layer of ice, like a rock tumbler, as they are added to the balls which are eventually deposited on the beach. Rebecca Hersher at NPR reports that similar ice balls were recorded in Lake Michigan in 2010 and 2015 and also covered a Sebago Lake in Maine last winter.