So a precise slice of the area around Shippingport, PA, got a few inches of snow the other day. Accuweather's Jillian MacMath explains rather neatly why. Upwind is a nuclear power complex, Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station, and not far from that the coal-burning Mansfield Power Plant. Altogether, five cooling towers were belching plenty of steam into the sky. The result, due to collision of hot moist air with supercold drier air at altitude, resembles a Lake Effect snow only more concentrated in area. A Doppler radar image by the Nat'l Weather Service revealed a distinct, narrow plume of snow stretching downwind. An inversion effect that kept the plume entrained, it says here, enhanced the effect.
This got lots of local coverage and a few jokes (ie not true) about glowing snow.
This is a good enough explanation, for a weather-savvy audience, of an oddball but not terribly significant event. Several other outlets covered it too. Before we get to that, check this video, on BoingBoing, of a father in Canada showing his kids something much more dramatic and that gives one a good idea how abruptly snow can form given the right conditions. Perhaps this movie imlants a more vivid intuitive illustration of what happened to those powerplant steam and warm condensate plumes when they met an Arctic air mass. YouTube has a mess of such videos (just search it for boiling water snow) from lots of cold places. But stumbling across the BoingBoing science offering at nearly the same moment as reading of the cooling tower effect in Pennsylvania was too choice to not share.
- Shippingport Times - Michael Pound: Nuclear winter: Shippingport's plants send snow downwind;
- Minnesota Public Radio: - Paul Huttner: 'Nuke Effect' Snow? Pennsylvania power plant spawns 'nuclear' snow plume.
- Wash. Post / Capital Weather Gang - Jason Samenow: Nuclear power plant produces snow in southwest Pennsylvania ; Samenow explains it fine, and embeds one of the YouTube videos of the same effect - billowing from a high balcony of a Russian apartment building with architecture that says Stalin-era to me.
- KDKA (CBS-Pittsburgh) Christine D'Antonio: Weather Service: Nuclear Power Plant Causes Freak Snowstorm;
- Climate Central - Andrew Freedman: Nuclear Snow? Plant Yields Snow in Pennsylvania. The comments are worth a look - one reader who works at the plant put a comment in that led to a revision of the story, and also notes that the worker had a pretty good idea on the way to work why it was snowing so hard. Another reader comes up with a calculation that concludes that 46 percent of the snow was from the nuclear station, the rest from the coal plant's furnace.
- AP: Weather service notes nuke-effect snow in W. Pa. Lede is a light-hearted joke that some may not be sure is a joke: "You could even say it glows?" Too bad this didn't happen a month earlier. That lede would have been a keeper for sure.
- Pittsburgh Trib-Review - Brian C. Rittmeyer: Beaver County nuke plant makes snow for Allegheny, Westmoreland counties ; Another light hearted lede but with no chance of misleading anybody: "First things first: It wasn't nuclear snow."
- Daily Mail (UK): The MAN-MADE blizzard: Nuclear power planet causes freak snow storm in Pittsburgh ; Well, good ol' Daily Mail. Just a wee bit loose with the truth. But as usual its pictures are the best: the Doppler of course, plus one of the plant on a sunny day, and one of snow falling on a thruway that the caption hints was the actual snow under discussion but it's hard to tell. PLUS, the YouTube from Russia of the snow-belching apartment patio. Can an accumulation of an inch or two really support the blizzard accusation? And anyway, it looks like a coal plant did most of the snow-priming.