The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Hobart and William Smith Colleges a three-year grant totaling more than $355,000 to join a collaborative research project for the study of lake-effect snowstorms in Finger Lakes and Lake Ontario regions.
Associate Professor of Geoscience Neil Laird and Assistant Professor of Geoscience Nicholas Metz submitted the proposal as part of a $1.5 million research plan that includes collaborative work with research teams from several universities from across the country.
Laird says the first major portion of the research is scheduled to begin after the fall semester and will include an intensive field project designed to collect meteorological measurements during lake-effect snowstorms in surrounding regions. In the years following the fieldwork, Laird says scientific investigations will be conducted using the collected data along with computer model simulations to enhance the understanding of lake-effect snowstorms and the varying factors that influence those storms.
“This is a great project for the Colleges, providing us with the same opportunities as many major universities,” Laird says. “The timing of the grant is also happening when atmospheric science is really taking off at the Colleges.”
In all, nearly 20 HWS students will conduct research in varying capacities throughout the duration of the project, including field research and data analysis during the upcoming winter and during the three subsequent years. Notably, participating HWS undergraduates will have the same kind of scientific access often granted to graduate students at other institutions during the field project, Laird says.
“Involvement in this kind of research project really helps HWS students to stand out,” Laird says. “They’ll conduct real-world research with established scientists from around the country.”
Metz adds that while classroom learning incorporates hands-on experiences, this project will be different, allowing students to build important and necessary skills through research in the field. During the field project students will often have to “think on their feet” applying classroom knowledge to real-life situations.
Joining HWS for the research project are participants from Millersville University, Pennsylvania State University, State University of New York – Oswego, University at Albany, University of Alabama in Huntsville, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Utah, and University of Wyoming. Through the project, which is titled “Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (OWLeS),” the participating groups will investigate several research topics related to heavy snowfall, lake-effect snow storms, and boundary-layer meteorology. At HWS, the focus will be on the atmospheric connection between Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes when the Finger Lakes region are active with snow bands.
“We’re excited about the collaborative network and this is a great opportunity to interact with other schools,” Laird says. “The students will be working in a professional setting outside the Colleges and at HWS where several research groups will be located during the winter project.”
The project itself will include a range of scientific measurement equipment that will be implemented to collect data in the field. Three Doppler-on-Wheels (DOW) mobile radar systems, managed by the Center for Severe Weather Research, will be deployed; and depending on conditions, researchers at times will use the University of Wyoming King Air (UWKA) research aircraft to collect data during flight. The project also will use multiple measuring devices called rawinsondes (i.e., weather balloons) to collect data for building atmospheric profiles of temperature, wind, and humidity.
Eventually, the collected data will be used in tandem with weather forecast computer models to more completely understand what’s happening in the atmosphere. In doing so, Laird says researchers will able to isolate factors to examine how certain conditions such as topography and lake surface conditions may contribute to lake-effect snowstorms. The scientific implications could be of interest not only to scientists, but other professionals and agencies as well. It could aid in future weather research projects and weather forecasting, Laird says.
In many ways, aspects of the project focus on untapped areas of research, a unique and important opportunity for those involved, says Metz. “The experience gained from participating in the project also will help students to be more competitive as they move forward in their careers,” he says.
The photo above features a visit from the Doppler on Wheels to the HWS campus last year.