SUNY Oswego scientists seek beefy radar to study, predict lake effect storms

OSWEGO — Oswegonians are no strangers to lake effect snow, but Laker meteorologist and professor Scott Steiger has applied for a $900,000 radar to further local data collection and study the beastly snow storms.

Steiger, who heads up the Lake-Effect Storm Prediction and Research Center at SUNY Oswego, prepared a proposal for the National Science Foundation to install a six-foot radar on the Port City campus.

Steiger said that having a radar in close proximity to the surface of the lake would help mete out details inside the lake effect snowstorms, contributing to a better understanding and enhanced scholarship on the famously spontaneous weather events.

“It will send electromagnetic signals that can be reflected by the particles in the clouds,” Steiger told The Palladium-Times on Tuesday. “They’ll be returned to the radar to be measured so we will know where the storm is and how intense it is.”

The scientist said a radar system in Oswego would have an advantage over the nearest National Weather Service radar array in Montague, Lewis County, because it would be closer to the ground. The Oswego radar would measure the speed of the particles are moving and the types of particles present in storm clouds — snow, graupel or rain.

Lake effect snowstorms are unlike wintry weather away from the Great Lakes and can lead to whiteouts and significant traffic and safety hazards. Upstate New York, Oswego County and the Tug Hill plateau have been called the epicenter of lake effect snow and the region is consistently ranked among the snowiest areas in the nation.

Lake effect snow is produced when frigid winds collect moisture from warmer lakes and expels the moisture onto land. Tug Hill is known worldwide for its massive amounts of lake effect snow and because Lake Ontario rarely freezes, it produces more lake effect snow than the shallow Lake Erie.

Five years ago, SUNY Oswego scientists spearheaded a National Science Foundation project with meteorologists and climate scientists nationwide regarding lake effect snow systems.

The Ontario Winter Lake-Effect Systems Project (OWLes) included exciting and groundbreaking storm chasing methods, with aircraft flying into the narrow bands of wintry precipitation as it became lake effect snow. A truck-mounted radar system also chases the lake effect clouds for observation.

Steiger said the detail found during that project went above and beyond the capabilities of the National Weather Service’s radar. The federal government has mounted radar units in Montague, Albany, Buffalo and south of Oswego in Binghamton. The proposed radar Steiger is after would function on a different wavelength and would be closer to the lake’s shore, mounted on an approximately 20-foot tower on top of the Shineman Center.

Steiger said the radar proposal took months of preparation and painstaking detail.

“I started working on writing it last summer,” he said. “And I worked almost every day during my last winter break on it!”

Assuming no further federal government shutdowns, Steiger says SUNY Oswego will find out if they will receive the $900,000 equipment and installation late this summer. The scientist said the Oswego community would be involved in demonstrations.

“We have many projects planned, from lake-effect snow experiments to studying the wind field over and near Lake Ontario to help researchers at Cornell in studying wind power potential in the area,” he said. “We plan to host many community members at informational sessions and other displays of the radar and its data. We also plan to use the radar's data to help forecast for local schools and the Department of Transportation.”

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