Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Up close and personal with extreme snowstorms in Oswego, NY.

The Doppler-on-Wheels in action.
 Credit: CSWR
In early January, the National Science Foundation highlighted research that aims to learn more about lake effect snowstorms and how they are formed.  Researchers in Oswego, NY are utilizing a new radar tool, the Doppler-on-Wheels (DOW), to take measurements literally inside a lake-effect snowstorm as it forms and travels across the lake.

Oswego, NY and the nearby Tug Hill Plateau region are known as some of the "snowiest" regions in the United States.  An average of 300 inches (25 ft!) of snow falls here each year, the largest average snowfall of any non-mountainous region in the United States.

The region's notoriety for snow is due to its proximity to the Great Lakes.  As cold Arctic air sweeps down over the warm lake water, water vapor is formed.  The water vapor condenses to form clouds that continue to move across the lake and dump enormous amounts of "lake-effect snow" on nearby communities.

The DOW, a portable Doppler radar dish mounted on the back of a flatbed truck, is a blizzard chaser's dream come true.  The DOW can reveal information about the inner workings of snowstorm that normally can't be seen with distant radars.  In addition to measuring wind and snow intensity, the DOW can analyze fine-scale properties such as the density of the snow, whether it forms pellets, and its snow crystal type.  These fine-scale properties can have a huge influence on the severity of a storm, often determining whether it will snow a few inches or a few feet.

Researchers hope that insight into how lake effect snowstorms are formed will help to better predict snowy outcomes in both the short and long term.

Sharinne Sukhnanand

These briefs are part of a weekly series of updates to the PRI publication: Climate Change: Past, Present, and Future.  The entire series can be found here.

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