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.

My display in the 4th seat shows data from our lidar (all the reds, yellows, and blues),
which is sort of like a radar, and our flight track plotted on top of
the National Weather Service radar map

Flying at ~7000 ft above the ground east of the lake-effect snowbands.
This photo is looking southeast. Some of the weather instruments are visible
at the end of the wing!
However, I am MORE excited about tomorrow! I will once again be flying 4th seat in the aircraft, except this time we will be flying over eastern Lake Ontario where a strong, long-fetch single band will be located. This single band has already developed as I am writing this and is currently dumping snow at 3-4 inches per hour at one of the OWLeS ground sites east of the lake! There are Lake-effect Snow Warnings across that whole region until 4am Thursday. The current radar image is shown below, where the dark greens indicate very heavy snowfall, and the red "X" is where our ground site is located.

National Weather Service radar map over upstate New York
This band is expected to persist all the way into the day Thursday. By then, some places will have seen up to 3 feet of snow, and possibly more if the band does not move very much north and south. Because of this, we might also fly the airplane into the snow band Thursday AND Friday, hopefully collecting some good data. This is a fairly rare event, so we'll see how it turns out. And I'll certainly post an update later in the week to fill you in on what ends up happening!

UPDATE: photo from before today's (Wednesday) flight over Lake Ontario. The ugly orange and black suits are dry suits, worn to keep us dry in case the worst case scenario (having to do a water landing over the lake) were to occur. It is not in our plans to let this happen :)

Just before takeoff. From L to R: Our pilot Brett, Phil, Scott the research scientist, and Jeff the flight scientist

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