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What's the difference between

  1. It had snowed in the night, so the bus didn't arrive.
  2. It snowed in the night, so the bus didn't arrive.

I think in the first sentence there is causality and the second it seems the two main clauses are unrelated.
Which one is preferable? Is there really a difference in meaning? Is the second sentence grammatically correct?

1

In the first sentence,

  • It had snowed in the night...

    the past perfect "had snowed" implies that the night has finished, and thus implies that the bus that was supposed to arrive in the morning did not arrive in the morning.

In the second sentence,

  • It snowed in the night...

the night might not be done yet, from the writer's point of view, and the bus that "didn't arrive" might have been expected sometime during the night. Not necessarily, buf maybe.

If one wanted to more clearly suggest that both the snow and the "not arriving" occurred on the previous night, one could say:

  • It had snowed in the night, so the bus had not arrived.

The interpretation also depends on how long you think the writer might have been willing to wait for a delayed bus before declaring that it "didn't arrive" (or hadn't).

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Is there really a difference in meaning?

I don't see any real difference in meaning between the two sentences. I know of two actions "it snowed" and "the bus didn't arrive" and I know that the snow caused the bus not to arrive.

Is the second sentence grammatically correct?

Both are grammatically correct. The only difference being that the first uses the "past perfect" to conjugate to snow, the latter uses the "past simple" tense.

Which one is preferable?

Either. Your choice.

The second it seems the two main clauses are unrelated

I disagree because of your use of the word "so". If this was omitted, the sentences could be unrelated. Though of course, due to their proximity, I'd take them to be related anyway.

It snowed in the night [, that's why it's so cold today). The bus didn't arrive, [because the driver slept in!]

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