As of Tuesday, less than 15 percent of the Lower 48 states were covered with snow, compared with more than half of that area at this time in 2011. No wonder the fake-snow business is double what it was last year.

Often used for winter-themed photo shoots and kids' parties, it's been more popular in states that rarely or never see the real thing. But this January, Minnesotans pining for some white fluff to play in may have to resort to buying an artificial version of the stuff we usually have more than enough of by this month.

The good news is that you no longer have to resort to rolls of cotton batting, Styrofoam packing peanuts or instant potato flakes (the way the movies used to do it). Nor must you rent a truck-mounted machine to spray shaved ice all over your yard at several thousand dollars a pop.

Modern fake snow is a magical powder (actually a scientifically developed polymer) that you dump in a bucket with a little water and poof! Instant snow, available by the gallon or in bulk.

Snow in Seconds, a Minneapolis company, has received good online reviews for its product. Customer-service rep Kathy Ebert said most orders this year have continued to come from Southern states, despite our own lack of snow. Prices range from $5 for a one-gallon kit to $500 for 450 gallons.

"If you can spend $100 on fake snow for a 5-year-old's birthday party, it seems crazy, but people will do it," Ebert said. "They even buy enough to make hills for sliding on in their yards."

Richard Bayer of SnoWonder, a Florida-based company that began importing it 10 years ago, said that fake snow has a pretty long shelf life.

"If you sprinkle water on it to keep it from dehydrating, and keep it out of direct sun, you can use it for weeks," he said.

SnoWonder's product is the consistency of dry, powdery snow, but if you put some in the freezer for 40 minutes, "you can make hard-pack snowballs," he said.

As for getting rid of it, there are three options, he said: "You can spread it thin, let it evaporate and use it again. You can use it as a soil additive to help garden soil absorb more moisture. You can also vacuum it up and throw it away, but usually guests all want to take some home."

Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046