There’s an old saying that no two snowflakes are alike. Apparently our best proof of that until now was a study from the 1970’s that captured snowflakes and put them between glass layers on microscope slides—a few thousand of them. Talk about an exercise in patience!

Now the science of snowflake research has taken a big leap forward with a specially-developed rig that uses three high-speed cameras and infrared sensors to take thousands of 3D pictures of falling snowflakes in a single night. It’s called the Multi Angle Snowflake Camera and the University of Utah researchers who developed it have already created a spin-off company to manufacture the things.

Why should we care? (Other than the fact that the pictures are really pretty, as you can see.) It turns out that snowflakes can be so different under various conditions that weather forecasters’ computer models (based on those 1970’s snowflakes) can’t accurately predict what they’ll do, which helps explains why forecasts of snowfall amounts can be so wrong. These new cameras might make a big difference. Just for fun, you can even watch a live feed of falling snow at the Alta Ski Area where the research was done (when it’s snowing).

Maybe soon this technology will be able to warn us when we’re going to have to come up with a major bribe for our neighbour with the snowblower.