31 January 2014

The End Has Come, But This Is Not The End

Me Wednesday afternoon up on the Tug Hill after digging out one of our instruments. The snow was 4 ft deep here with 6 inches of ice underneath.
(Photo courtesy Peter Veals)

Well, OWLeS is officially over as of this past Wednesday. Most of us have packed up and returned home following a grueling 6 weeks of field research. But I can say without a shadow of a doubt that it was worth it, and the data that were collected during the project are going to be analyzed for years to come by dozens of researchers and grad students. OWLeS was extremely successful in so many ways! The data were great, the snow storms were borderline epic at times, and just about every scientist involved got the kind of data he/she was looking for. 

All in all, we studied 24 lake-effect events in 43 days. Two of these events dumped 5+ feet of snow at some locations in just a few days. The King Air flew 21 flights, 7 of which I was on. More than 100 people participated from 8 universities, two National Weather Service offices, and one research center, including 15 main scientists and about 50 undergraduates. At least 75 different weather sensors and instruments were used, including 8 radars, 200 or more weather balloons were launched, thousands of snowflake photographs were taken, and countless snow measurements were made. 

Ultimately, it was a great project. As my advisor said, "fewer than 1 in 10 winters are this good for lake-effect systems". We picked the right year to do this study, and it certainly paid off. Here are a few other interesting quotes from some of the OWLeS scientists:

"I will say this has been, by far, the most challenging field campaign that I have been involved with."

"Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine we'd have a field season as active as this!"

"...what can only be described as an epic period of field data collection..."

I hope you have enjoyed following this blog as much as I have enjoyed updating it. I hope you've learned a bit about the King Air. I hope you've learned something about how scientific field projects are done. Perhaps most importantly, I hope you've gained a new appreciation for how fascinating science and, in this case lake-effect snow, can be. Otherwise, this is probably my last post in this blog. Thanks for following, and stay curious my friends!

P.S. If you are a Wyoming middle or high schooler who found this blog through the Science Posse, you might just see me at your school sometime this spring with the Posse if we come visit!

13 January 2014

More on the UW King Air

Sorry for the long delay between posts. It has been somewhat of a busy week for me and I've had a number of other "chores" to work on. Much has happened with OWLeS since I last posted. We had 5 research flights in 4 days into lake-effect storms last week alone, as many as we had all of December! There were even 2 flights in one day, during one of which I got the privilege of flying in the 2nd seat. That meant that I got to tell the pilot where and how high to fly. So needless to say, myself and everyone else here have been tired and exhausted - getting up at 4 AM several times during the week was not on my original list of "things to do" before I came to NY, but we make the best of it.

Today (Monday) was a down day, meaning we were not collecting any data...which makes sense given that there are no lake-effect storms going on at the moment in our area. For me, down days like this are usually spent getting other stuff done. This past week, I've been working on editing a paper that we are trying to get published in one of the atmospheric science journals. I've also been plotting data from each of our flights and putting them online so other people associated with OWLeS can see them. I'm also in one class this spring, which started today, so eventually I will have homework and readings to do for that. On top of all this, I still have my own master's degree research to finish up - I haven't been able to work on any of that since November!

But instead of doing lots of work today, I helped give King Air tours to the undergraduate students from some of the other colleges involved in OWLeS - Millersville University, SUNY-Oswego, and Hobart and William Smith. These tours were more in-depth than the open house that we had back in December. I decided it was a good time to snap a number of photos of the airplane that I've been meaning to get - ones showing more of the instruments so that I can tell you a little bit about what each instrument does.

30 December 2013

The University of Wyoming King Air

As promised, here is just a little bit about the airplane I've been flying in during the OWLeS project!

I've mentioned in previous posts that many different types of research tools and instruments are being used in OWLeS to make measurements of the atmosphere while lake-effect snow storms are taking place. The main contribution from the University of Wyoming is our own research aircraft, the King Air. This means that the majority of the work I am doing during the project is related to the aircraft, which includes flying on it during IOPs!

The Aircraft Itself
The King Air is a small twin-engine airplane outfitted with various meteorological instrumentation and has been used in many research projects over the last 36 years. It has been all over the United States, down to the Caribbean, to Finland, and most recently to England, just to name a few locations. Most of the instruments or sensors on the airplane make fairly common measurements, like temperature, air pressure, wind speed/direction, and humidity. There are other less-common sensors that measure the size of cloud droplets and the amount of liquid water in the air.

20 December 2013

The End of Phase One

This post will be fairly brief. OWLeS Phase One (December 4-21) has officially ended, a few days early in fact. All 100+ people working on the project are now on Christmas break until January 2. After that, we will return to upstate New York for 3 1/2 weeks for Phase Two to resume data collection until January 29.

Phase One went extremely well for the most part. There were 5 total IOPs (Intensive Operating Periods) and 6 cases in total. It appears as if the instruments from the various groups were working the vast majority of the time, allowing us to collect great datasets for each of the IOPs. I've been looking at a lot of the data from the King Air, including the radar data, and it looks very promising for research.

Snow-wise, from December 7-18 a total of 99 inches of lake-effect snow fell at the OWLeS site in North Redfield, as measured by the Utah group. About 40% of this snow fell in one day! We've enjoyed all the snow, but now we are ready for a break and I'm certainly looking forward to going back to my hometown in Pennsylvania to see family and relax a bit.

I will try to post once or twice over break - one of these will be all about the King Air! So keep checking in. Also, if there are any big lake-effect events while we're gone, I'll post an update about that as well. Otherwise, I want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

16 December 2013

The Research Flight That Was Meant to Happen

We had an incredibly interesting day/evening yesterday, but before I get into the details, I wanted to start by mentioning that I traveled up to North Redfield, NY today (on the Tug Hill plateau east of Lake Ontario) to RAISE one of our instruments about 3 feet higher in order to keep it out of the snow. The instrument was already ~5 feet above the ground and the snow was about a foot or so below it. This is at one of our ground sites, which I've talked about in previous posts, that is run by folks from the University of Utah and has received a total of 80 inches of snow in the last 7 day with more to come this week. Here's one photo I took today - the rest can be found at the very bottom of this post!

Snow 4-5 feet deep at the OWLeS ground site in North Redfield, NY

The Flight That Almost Wasn't

So I think I should tell this like a story, in chronological order. This may be a bit lengthy, and I apologize, but looking back I'm quite amazed at how everything went last night and how it just all worked out so perfectly in the end. Anyway, I hope you all enjoy this and aren't dozing off 5 minutes from now haha.

Flight Plan - At the OWLeS 1 pm weather briefing yesterday (Sunday), it appeared as if a relatively weak long-fetch single band was going to develop sometime around sunset but die off during the overnight hours. We weren't expecting anything spectacular for sure, with some of us perhaps even thinking that it wasn't worth it to even fly the King Air. Ultimately, we decided we would have a 5:30 pm takeoff, fly for 3.5 hours collecting data over the weak band, and call it a night.

15 December 2013

5 Feet!!!

Before I review our most recent event, I wanted to show you all a video I made from the research flight I was on this past Tuesday (see below). We have a small camera aboard the King Air that takes a photograph every second, so you can actually take all of those photos and put them into a video - at the speed I have it, the video shows what it would look like flying at ~8,500 mph! Anyway, pay attention to the movement of the clouds and how they almost seem to "bubble up" as we fly by them. Enjoy!

So in my last post I let it be known that a big lake-effect snow event was in store, with possibly up to 3 feet of snow in some locations. It turns out that 60+ inches (5 feet) of snow ended up falling up in the hills east of Lake Ontario, with 66 inches in 78 hours at one of our OWLeS ground sites! Feel free to check out the blog from the University of Utah group who was stationed at that site during the event for photos.

I ended up flying in the King Air on Wednesday as well during the height of the event, when they were seeing snow falling at 3-4 inches/hour. In the end, this was a GREAT long-fetch lake-effect event! We collected a lot of very good data that will be analyzed in the years to come. We really could not have asked for a better event to study.

10 December 2013

Big snow coming!!!

Today, I was finally able to fly 4th seat in the UW King Air over western New York. One of my main jobs while out here on this project is flying on the aircraft, although up to this point the 4th seat hasn't been available so I haven't yet been able to fly. Today, the seat was open! For those of you asking what the person in the 4th seat does, I will address that in a future post when I talk more about the King Air itself. For now, just know that the person in the 4th seat gets to help out with a lot of stuff during the flight, but also gets to sort of be the person who is "along for the ride".

Anyway, we flew through some lake-effect snow bands that had originally developed over Lake Erie and were moving eastward over land. Lake Erie is southwest of Lake Ontario and also gets a lot of lake-effect snow. One of the many scientific goals of OWLeS is to study what is known as the "downwind persistence" of lake-effect snow. In more simple words, how are these lake-effect snow bands able to continue to grow and stay strong even after they move far from the lake? Today's flight collected data that might help answer that question.

Remember from my previous post that the lake-effect snow forms and strengthens over the lakes mainly due to the temperature difference between the lake water and the very cold air above it. Well, once a snow band moves off the lake, it loses that temperature difference (the land is much cooler than the water), yet these snow bands often stay very strong up to 100 or more miles from the lake. Why is that, and what meteorological processes are controlling it? We had one of the scientists onboard the flight who was wanting to study this and try to answer these questions. Below are some photos I took during the flight.