Winter has begun and HWS geoscience students and faculty are preparing to play a major role in a winter weather research project in the Lake Ontario and Finger Lakes regions. The project is named “Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (OWLeS)” and will collect weather measurements during December and January. The measurements will be used to explore several research topics related to heavy snowfall, lake-effect snow storms, and boundary-layer meteorology.
The winter weather project is being funded by the National Science Foundation and will include numerous researchers and students from universities and colleges across the country. As project collaborators, Associate Professor of Geoscience Neil Laird and Assistant Professor of Geoscience Nicholas Metz will work with nine HWS student researchers on the project: Brooke Adams ’16, Caitlin Crossett ’15, Zachary Dameron ’16, Nicole Desko ’15, Pamela Eck ’15, Raleigh Grysko ’15, Chad Hecht ’14, Macy Howarth ’16 and Aboubacar Okeke-Diagne ’15.
“The Geoscience Department is including as many undergraduates as possible for this project,” Laird says. “The students will be working directly with research teams and scientists from around the country and will gain field experience with measurement equipment and collecting meteorological data. This is a substantial commitment on the part of our students and offers them immersion into the area of atmospheric sciences that is typically reserved for graduate students, post-docs, and established research scientists.”
For the OWLeS weather project, HWS will be joined by research groups 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.
On Wednesday, Dec. 4, the OWLeS project will host a Community Day event at Penn Yan Airport (Seneca Flight Operations) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to give all attending the chance to learn more about the field project and tour some of the equipment that will be used during the project, including Doppler-on-Wheels (DOW) mobile radar systems, managed by the Center for Severe Weather Research, and the University of Wyoming King Air (UWKA) research aircraft that will be stationed in Penn Yan during the project. The Community Day event is free and is open to the public. Attendees are expected to range from grade school students to meteorologists from regional TV stations.
During the Community Day event, the HWS group will talk about their role in the project and perform a launch of a rawinsonde weather balloon, which is used to collect data on wind, temperature, and humidity as the measurement system is lifted through the atmosphere.
Throughout the two-month OWLeS project, the HWS team will have three overarching responsibilities.
Metz and several HWS students will share responsibility of developing daily weather forecasts for the OWLeS project. They will work with groups from the University of Albany, SUNY-Oswego, and forecasters from the National Weather Service offices in Buffalo, N.Y., and Binghamton, N.Y. They will monitor and forecast the weather around the clock in order to provide vital forecasts and briefings. Metz says they’ll need to know how the weather conditions are changing and what is expected in subsequent days so that project scientists can adjust when and where to position field instrument systems.
“For undergraduates to participate in fieldwork at this level and on this scale does not happen often,” Metz says. “This is a great learning opportunity for HWS students to work alongside researchers and other students, and to see their way of doing things. Students will see that the real world doesn’t always appear like it does in a textbook. Students will also see that the work they do matters.”
The second part of the Colleges’ work will be launching rawinsondes. Laird says, HWS will be one of five groups conducting that part of the research. Depending on the snow patterns, the HWS team may be taking measurements in the southern Finger Lakes region near Watkins Glen or Elmira – or east of Lake Ontario between Syracuse and Watertown. Other groups will be stationed across Upstate New York and in the Canadian province of Ontario.
“We primarily use our rawinsonde system for teaching. Now we have a chance to put our mobile rawinsonde system into operational use to collect data during significant weather conditions. Students will be challenged by readying the system and launching the large helium-filled weather balloons in extreme cold and snowy conditions.” Laird says. “It should be exciting and fun.”
Thirdly, some HWS students will work with scientists involved with the DOW mobile radars. The researchers managing and operating those facilities, along with the King Air, will collect meteorological measurements and provide preliminary reports, as well as quality control of data. HWS students will have the opportunity to work with DOW researchers inside those facilities during project data collection periods.
Some scientists will be stationed in Geneva working in the HWS labs as part of the ongoing data collection and quality-control processes. Other groups will be located at SUNY-Oswego or at their field collections locations.
With the project fast-approaching, HWS students are gearing up for their involvement. Caitlin Crossett ’15 says she will be participating in both the December and January sessions, working on everything from forecasting to assisting with the launch of weather balloons.
“I’m looking forward to getting research experience in a field-oriented setting and putting my knowledge to the test when it comes to forecasting lake-effect snow,” she says. “Being afforded the opportunity to get real-time forecast experience will hopefully help me in my hopes to become an operational weather forecaster.”
Laird says the collaborative research project is important on many levels. “It’s important for advancing connections and collaborations between other institutions and HWS. It’s a wonderful chance for HWS students to participate in hands-on research opportunities. Lastly, it’s significant for continued evolution of Atmospheric Sciences at the Colleges, creating awareness of our Geoscience Department across the country, and for building interest around the discipline.”
The photo above was taken on Seneca Lake last winter, as the cold air flowed over the warmer water, both heat and moisture moved into the atmosphere creating what meteorologists term “steam fog.”