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Inside a snowstorm: Scientists obtain close-up look at Old Man Winter

In this winter of heavy snows--with more on the way this week--nature's bull's-eye might be Oswego, N.Y., and the nearby Tug Hill Plateau.

There the proximity of the Great Lakes whips wind and snow into high gear. Old Man Winter then blows across New York state, burying cities and towns in snowdrifts several feet high. This season, however, something is standing in his way.

The Doppler-on-Wheels (DOW), a data-collecting radar dish, is waiting. This month and next, scientists inside the DOW are tracking snowstorms in and around Oswego to learn what drives lake-effect snowstorms that form parallel to the long axis of a Great Lake and produce enormous snowfall rates.

These long lake-axis-parallel (LLAP) bands of snow are more intense than those of other snow squalls and produce some of the highest snowfall rates and amounts in the world, say atmospheric scientists Scott Steiger of the State University of New York (SUNY)-Oswego, Jeffrey Frame of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Alfred Stamm of SUNY-Oswego.

"The mobility of a DOW," Steiger says, "is ideal for following lake-effect storms. The DOW will allow us to witness them as they form and cross lakes, which other weather radars can't do."

The DOW, or more properly "DOWs" as there are three, is a National Science Foundation (NSF) atmospheric science facility.

A DOW looks more like the dish of a radio telescope than a sophisticated weather instrument. It's mounted on the back of a flat-bed truck. With a DOW on board, the truck becomes an odd configuration of generator, equipment and operator cabin.

Ungainly as it may appear, it's ideally suited to provide detailed information on the inner workings of snow and other storms, says Josh Wurman, director of the Center for Severe Weather Research (CSWR) in Boulder, Colo.

Wurman should know. He and colleagues developed the first DOW in 1995.

The DOW uses Doppler radar to

Contact: Cheryl Dybas
National Science Foundation

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Inside a snowstorm: Scientists obtain close-up look at Old Man Winter
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