The Gilmore Girls revival began last month with Lorelai Gilmore demonstrating olfactory skills worthy of the Weather Channel, as she excitedly proclaimed ‘I smell snow!’ Which got me wondering…can people actually predict use scent to predict weather?
Winter in general is a bit of subdued time for our noses. Odor molecules are much more excitable and easily transportable in warmer weather. Higher temperatures effectively induce more odor molecules into the air, and therefore make more molecules available for detection by our noses. For instance, consider hot coffee versus iced coffee. With a great cup of hot coffee, you can smell dozens of different odor molecules, which blend together for the rich coffee scent that we love. In contrast, only a fraction of those scents are noticeable with iced coffee. A similar effect happens on a larger scale in wintertime: the environment gets colder, and so there are fewer perceptible odors around. The ‘scent’ of winter is almost a lack of scent.
However, there’s another interesting effect happening here, relating to humidity changes! Humidity factors into the ‘winter’ smell in two ways. Firstly, you know that ‘crisp’ scent of fresh winter air? Well, that is the effect of your body warming and humidifying air, to make it the right temperature to enter our lungs, with the side benefit of a menthol-like feeling. Secondly, snowfall occurs when the humidity levels rise above the atmosphere’s maximum holding levels. Really perceptive noses can notice this humidity rise.
So, maybe Lorelai Gilmore really can smell when snow is coming.