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.

06 December 2013

What is Lake-effect Snow, and Why Study It?

If you live near the Great Lakes, and especially in upstate New York, you will have most likely heard of lake-effect snow before. But elsewhere, the term is probably foreign to your ears. So what is lake-effect snow? And what is so special about it? I personally think it is a very cool weather phenomenon, although the general process behind it are relatively simple.

Lake-effect snow is simply snow that forms over a lake (in our case, Lake Ontario in the Great Lakes) due to the difference between the temperature of the lake surface and the air directly above it. Lake-effect snow occurs at large lakes all over the world, but is perhaps most prominent over the North American Great Lakes. In late autumn or early winter, before the lakes freeze over, very cold airmasses from Canada will occasionally swing down over the Great Lakes, bringing frigid temperatures to the region. The air might be 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit, while the lake water temperature might still be 40-50 degrees. This creates a situation where the lake water is much, much warmer than the air flowing over it.

Most of us know that warm air rises as long as it is warmer than the air around it. As the cold air flows over the much warmer lakes, the air in contact with the water will warm due to conduction and will also pick up lots of moisture from the lake itself. This creates a layer of relatively warm, humid air right above the water which eventually begins to rise through the cold, dry air around it. Just like with summertime thunderstorms, this rising warm air eventually cools off to the point that condensation can occur, forming a cloud, and eventually snow. If the warm air is rising fast enough, and contains enough moisture, then the snow that forms in the cloud can become very heavy in a very short period of time. This is illustrated in the photo below.

04 December 2013

Settling In

So I have arrived in Geneva, NY for OWLeS. The hotel I am staying in sits right on the northern shores of Seneca Lake, one of the New York Finger Lakes. My window looks directly out over the lake to the east. I call that a win! Be on the ready for epic sunrise photos finding their way into this blog. In total, there are currently six of us here from the University of Wyoming - myself, our pilot, two engineers, and two other atmospheric scientists. There are eight others from UW who will be coming out at some point in the next two months, although not all at the same time.

The last 24 hours have been a rush - getting to Geneva, picking up last-minute supplies, getting food, driving to the airport to pick up equipment from our trailer, driving 2 hours to the east side of Lake Ontario to drop off and assemble some weather instruments and a snow crystal camera at one of our ground sites - it's been busy. At least I was able to hang out will some cool folks from the University of Utah while I was there. The project officially begins this Thursday, although it appears as if the weather conditions will not be favorable for lake-effect snow development until Saturday at the earliest. So we wait, although this does not mean I will be sitting around watching TV all day. I will be quite busy for the rest of the week with a variety of things.

20 November 2013

Welcome and Preview of things to come!!!

Greetings and welcome to my blog!

This will be (somewhat) short and sweet. In less than two weeks, I will be heading to upstate New York from Wyoming to participate in a very large field project focusing on lake-effect snowstorms over Lake Ontario. This project, named OWLeS (Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems), will officially be the largest lake-effect snow research campaign that has ever been attempted. Involved in OWLeS will be some 70+ researchers, faculty, and students from nine universities and research centers from across the country. 

Once the project begins, I will be posting semi-regular updates (with photos!) as time permits of some of different things that are taking place. This will hopefully give a "behind the scenes" perspective into the various activities that occur during a large field campaign like OWLeS. I will also provide a glimpse into some of my own duties, which should include many flights aboard the University of Wyoming's very own King Air research airplane.

Finally, some may ask why I am even writing a blog in the first place. At the University of Wyoming, I am a part of what is known as the UW Science Posse, a small group of graduate students in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) who travel throughout the state of Wyoming sharing their passion for science with middle and high school students through lessons, career talks, and other educational approaches. As I will be absent for all of December and much of January, I felt it would be neat to give students back in Wyoming the opportunity to "take part" in this field project by following me on my journey into the realm of lake-effect snowstorms. Hopefully, any students who wish to do so will fully enjoy what is in store! :)