While many students will begin thinking of holidays and the winter break, come Dec. 23 students and two meteorology professors from Millersville University will be braving the cold near Geneva, N.Y. They will join researchers from across the country as part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to study lake-effect snowstorms in the vicinity of Lake Ontario.

The project is called Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (OWLeS). OWLeS scientists will converge on the shores of Lake Ontario from Dec. 5-21, 2013, and Jan. 4-29, 2014. Together, they will work to better understand mechanisms that lead to the deep snows that accumulate across the lake region each winter.

“The project focuses on two different types of lake-effect storms,” explained Dr. Todd Sikora, co-principal investigator on the grant with Dr. Richard Clark. “One type arises when the wind is westerly, and the other comes about when the wind is northwesterly or northerly.”

Clark and Sikora will research the latter scenario. “Our research question is what mechanisms enable lake-effect snow to extend from Lake Ontario as far south as Pennsylvania,” said Clark.  “Our collaborator on our research is Dr. George Young of Penn State.”

Researchers will use three Doppler-on-Wheels (DOW) and a University of Wyoming instrumented aircraft, the King Air. “Beyond the NSF facilities, each research group of OWLeS has their own set of science questions and corresponding instruments to answer those questions,” said Sikora. “The data from all research groups will be shared.”

“What Millersville brings to the table is the ability to collect data in the lowest portion of the atmosphere at very high resolution and to connect the airborne measurements to the ground-based measurements using our tethered balloon. When our research question is being addressed, Young will be flying and directing the King Air while the Millersville contingent will be manning its ground-based instruments,” said Clark.

“In addition to operating Millersville’s instruments, our students will help other researchers collect their data,” said Clark. “One day they may be taking measurements at our base facility, and the next they may be driving a vehicle outfitted with weather instrumentation into a major snowstorm. This type and scale of undergraduate field research experience is unique.”

In addition to Millersville, other participating institutions are the University of Wyoming, University of Illinois, University of Utah, State University of New York (SUNY) Oswego, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Penn State University, University of Alabama in Huntsville, SUNY Albany and the Center for Severe Weather Research (CSWR) in Boulder, Colo. As snows begin to fall, those researchers will head out to collect data. The results will lead to increased predictability of, and preparedness for, Old Man Winter.



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