Characteristics of Lake-Effect Precipitation over the Black River Valley and Western Adirondack Mountains

W. James Steenburgh aDepartment of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

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Julie A. Cunningham aDepartment of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah
bNOAA/National Weather Service Forecast Office, Salt Lake City, Utah

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Philip T. Bergmaier cWyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming

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Bart Geerts dDepartment of Atmospheric Science, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming

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Peter Veals aDepartment of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

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Abstract

Potential factors affecting the inland penetration and orographic modulation of lake-effect precipitation east of Lake Ontario include the environmental (lake, land, and atmospheric) conditions, mode of the lake-effect system, and orographic processes associated with flow across the downstream Tug Hill Plateau (herein Tug Hill), Black River valley, and Adirondack Mountains (herein Adirondacks). In this study we use data from the KTYX WSR-88D, ERA5 reanalysis, New York State Mesonet, and Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (OWLeS) field campaign to examine how these factors influence lake-effect characteristics with emphasis on the region downstream of Tug Hill. During an eight-cool-season (16 November–15 April) study period (2012/13–2019/20), total radar-estimated precipitation during lake-effect periods increased gradually from Lake Ontario to upper Tug Hill and decreased abruptly where the Tug Hill escarpment drops into the Black River valley. The axis of maximum precipitation shifted poleward across the northern Black River valley and into the northwestern Adirondacks. In the western Adirondacks, the heaviest lake-effect snowfall periods featured strong, near-zonal boundary layer flow, a deep boundary layer, and a single precipitation band aligned along the long-lake axis. Airborne profiling radar observations collected during OWLeS IOP10 revealed precipitation enhancement over Tug Hill, spillover and shadowing in the Black River valley where a resonant lee wave was present, and precipitation invigoration over the western Adirondacks. These results illustrate the orographic modulation of inland-penetrating lake-effect systems downstream of Lake Ontario and the factors favoring heavy snowfall over the western Adirondacks.

Significance Statement

Inland penetrating lake-effect storms east of Lake Ontario affect remote rural communities, enable a regional winter-sports economy, and contribute to a snowpack that contributes to runoff and flooding during thaws and rain-on-snow events. In this study we illustrate how the region’s three major geographic features—Tug Hill, the Black River valley, and the western Adirondacks—affect the characteristics of lake-effect precipitation, describe the factors contributing to heavy snowfall over the western Adirondacks, and provide an examples of terrain effects in a lake-effect storm observed with a specially instrumented research aircraft.

This article is included in the Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (OWLeS) Special Collection.

© 2023 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Jim Steenburgh, jim.steenburgh@utah.edu

Abstract

Potential factors affecting the inland penetration and orographic modulation of lake-effect precipitation east of Lake Ontario include the environmental (lake, land, and atmospheric) conditions, mode of the lake-effect system, and orographic processes associated with flow across the downstream Tug Hill Plateau (herein Tug Hill), Black River valley, and Adirondack Mountains (herein Adirondacks). In this study we use data from the KTYX WSR-88D, ERA5 reanalysis, New York State Mesonet, and Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (OWLeS) field campaign to examine how these factors influence lake-effect characteristics with emphasis on the region downstream of Tug Hill. During an eight-cool-season (16 November–15 April) study period (2012/13–2019/20), total radar-estimated precipitation during lake-effect periods increased gradually from Lake Ontario to upper Tug Hill and decreased abruptly where the Tug Hill escarpment drops into the Black River valley. The axis of maximum precipitation shifted poleward across the northern Black River valley and into the northwestern Adirondacks. In the western Adirondacks, the heaviest lake-effect snowfall periods featured strong, near-zonal boundary layer flow, a deep boundary layer, and a single precipitation band aligned along the long-lake axis. Airborne profiling radar observations collected during OWLeS IOP10 revealed precipitation enhancement over Tug Hill, spillover and shadowing in the Black River valley where a resonant lee wave was present, and precipitation invigoration over the western Adirondacks. These results illustrate the orographic modulation of inland-penetrating lake-effect systems downstream of Lake Ontario and the factors favoring heavy snowfall over the western Adirondacks.

Significance Statement

Inland penetrating lake-effect storms east of Lake Ontario affect remote rural communities, enable a regional winter-sports economy, and contribute to a snowpack that contributes to runoff and flooding during thaws and rain-on-snow events. In this study we illustrate how the region’s three major geographic features—Tug Hill, the Black River valley, and the western Adirondacks—affect the characteristics of lake-effect precipitation, describe the factors contributing to heavy snowfall over the western Adirondacks, and provide an examples of terrain effects in a lake-effect storm observed with a specially instrumented research aircraft.

This article is included in the Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (OWLeS) Special Collection.

© 2023 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Jim Steenburgh, jim.steenburgh@utah.edu
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