KSJ Tracker January 24, 2013

Accuweather (via LiveScience) nicely explains sorta nuclear fallout snow in PA. But backyard video from Canada does it better.

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.

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