From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published November 20, 2013 11:49 AM

Modern Mobile Equipment Captures Thundersnow in Action

Thundersnow, also known as a winter thunderstorm, is an unusual kind of thunderstorm where snow falls instead of rain. The interaction of clouds and ice pellets inside these storms generates a charge, resulting in lightning and thunder. While these events are fairly rare around the globe, they are most common with lake-effect snow, especially near the Great Lakes.


In order to capture these rare thundersnows in action, the National Science Foundation (NSF) will send out the Doppler-on-Wheels (DOW) and the King Air, a University of Wyoming instrumented aircraft.

Using the DOW, the King Air and other equipment, scientists from across the country will converge on the shores of Lake Ontario from Dec. 5-21, 2013, and Jan. 4-29, 2014 in an effort to work together to better understand the atmospheric conditions and mechanisms that lead to the deep snows that accumulate across the region each winter.

The project is called OWLeS (Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems). OWLeS is funded by NSF and is a collaborative effort of nine universities.

Although lake-effect snowstorms happen near all the Great Lakes, the New York area along Lake Ontario has some of the deepest snowfalls. Average annual snow reaches more than 100 inches. Nearby locations, such as the Tug Hill Plateau, may be blanketed with more than 250 inches each year.

Brad Smull, program director in NSF's Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, says, "OWLeS' unique suite of modern mobile observing equipment and computer-based storm models will help us understand the processes that control the timing and location of these zones of heavy snow."

OWLeS scientists will use a network of specialized weather instrumentation - including three DOWs, the King Air, several weather balloon sounding systems, and a vertically-pointing radar wind profiler - to study the inner workings of lake-effect snowstorms.

The DOW and the King Air will intercept the lake-effect snowbands that cause the heavy snowfalls of the Lake Ontario region. The King Air will fly over Lake Ontario, collecting data on snow and ice pellets, temperatures and other properties inside lake-effect snowbands while the DOW uses Doppler radar to produce velocity data about severe storms - at a distance.

Read more at the National Science Foundation.

Doppler-on-Wheels image via the National Science Foundation, credit: CSWR

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