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Philip T. Bergmaier and Bart Geerts

Abstract

Modeling and observational studies stemming from the 2013–14 Ontario Winter Lake-Effect Systems (OWLeS) field campaign have yielded much insight into the structure and development of long-lake-axis-parallel (LLAP) lake-effect systems over Lake Ontario. This study uses airborne single- and dual-Doppler radar data obtained during two University of Wyoming King Air flights, as well as a high-resolution numerical model simulation, to examine and contrast two distinctly different LLAP band structures observed within a highly persistent lake-effect system on 7–9 January 2014. On 7 January, a very cold air mass accompanied by strong westerly winds and weak capping aloft resulted in a deep, intense LLAP band that produced heavy snowfall well inland. In contrast, weaker winds, weaker surface heat fluxes, and stronger capping aloft resulted in a weaker LLAP band on 9 January. This band was blocked along the downwind shore and produced only light snowfall closer to the shoreline. Although the two structures examined here represent opposite ends of a spectrum of LLAP bands, both cases reveal a well-organized mesoscale secondary circulation composed of two counterrotating horizontal vortices positioned on either side of a narrow updraft within the band. In both cases, this circulation traces back to a shallow, baroclinic land-breeze front originating along a bulge in the lake’s southern shoreline. As the band extends downstream and the low-level baroclinity weakens, buoyancy increases within the band—driven in part by cloud latent heating—leading to band intensification and a deeper, stronger, and more symmetric secondary circulation over the lake.

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Daniel T. Eipper, Steven J. Greybush, George S. Young, Seth Saslo, Todd D. Sikora, and Richard D. Clark

Abstract

Lake-effect snowstorms are often observed to manifest as dominant bands, commonly produce heavy localized snowfall, and may extend large distances inland, resulting in hazards and high societal impact. Some studies of dominant bands have documented concomitant environmental baroclinity (i.e., baroclinity occurring at a scale larger than the width of the parent lake), but the interaction of this baroclinity with the inland structure of dominant bands has been largely unexplored. In this study, the thermodynamic environment and thermodynamic and kinematic structure of simulated dominant bands are examined using WRF reanalyses at 3-km horizontal resolution and an innovative technique for selecting the most representative member from the WRF ensemble. Three reanalysis periods are selected from the Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (OWLeS) field campaign, encompassing 185 simulation hours, including 155 h in which dominant bands are identified. Environmental baroclinity is commonly observed during dominant-band periods and occurs in both the north–south and east–west directions. Sources of this baroclinity are identified and discussed. In addition, case studies are conducted for simulation hours featuring weak and strong along-band environmental baroclinity, resulting in weak and strong inland extent, respectively. These contrasting cases offer insight into one mechanism by which along-band environmental baroclinity can influence the inland structure and intensity of dominant bands: in the case with strong environmental baroclinity, inland portions of this band formed under weak instability and therefore exhibit slow overturning, enabling advection far inland under strong winds, whereas the nearshore portion forms under strong instability, and the enhanced overturning eventually leads to the demise of the inland portion of the band.

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Karen A. Kosiba, Joshua Wurman, Kevin Knupp, Kyle Pennington, and Paul Robinson

Abstract

During the Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (OWLeS) field campaign, 12 long-lake-axis-parallel (LLAP) snowband events were sampled. Misovortices occurred in 11 of these events, with characteristic diameters of ~800 m, differential velocities of ~11 m s−1, and spacing between vortices of ~3 km. A detailed observational analysis of one such snowband provided further insight on the processes governing misovortex genesis and evolution, adding to the growing body of knowledge of these intense snowband features. On 15–16 December 2013, a misovortex-producing snowband was exceptionally well sampled by ground-based OWLeS instrumentation, which allowed for integrated finescale dual-Doppler and surface thermodynamic analyses. Similar to other studies, horizontal shearing instability (HSI), coupled with stretching, was shown to be the primary genesis mechanism. The HSI location was influenced by snowband-generated boundaries and location of the Arctic front relative to the band. Surface temperature observations, available for the first time, indicated that the misovortices formed along a baroclinic zone. Enhanced mixing, higher radar reflectivity, and increased precipitation rate accompanied the vortices. As the snowband came ashore, OWLeS participants indicated an increase in snowfall and white out conditions with the passage of the snowband. A sharp, small-scale pressure drop, coupled with winds of ~16 m s−1, marked the passage of a misovortex and may be typical of snowband misovortices.

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Daniel T. Eipper, George S. Young, Steven J. Greybush, Seth Saslo, Todd D. Sikora, and Richard D. Clark

Abstract

Predicting the inland penetration of lake-effect long-lake-axis-parallel (LLAP) snowbands is crucial to public safety because LLAP bands can produce hazardous weather well downwind of the parent lake. Accordingly, hypotheses for the variation in inland penetration of LLAP-band radar echoes (InPen) are formulated and tested. The hypothesis testing includes an examination of statistical relationships between environmental variables and InPen for 34 snapshots of LLAP bands observed during the Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (OWLeS) field campaign. Several previously proposed predictors of LLAP-band formation or InPen demonstrate weak correlations with InPen during OWLeS. A notable exception is convective boundary layer (CBL) depth, which is strongly correlated with InPen. In addition to CBL depth, InPen is strongly correlated with cold-air advection in the upper portion of the CBL, suggesting that boundary layer destabilization produced by vertically differential cold-air advection may be an important inland power source for preexisting LLAP bands. This power production is quantified through atmospheric energetics and the resulting variable, differential thermal advection power (DTAP), yields reasonably skillful predictions of InPen. Nevertheless, an InPen model developed using DTAP is outperformed by an empirical model combining CBL depth and potential temperature advection in the upper portion of the CBL. This two-variable model explains 76% of the observed InPen variance when tested on independent data. Finally, implications for operational forecasting of InPen are discussed.

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David A. R. Kristovich, Luke Bard, Leslie Stoecker, and Bart Geerts

Abstract

Annual lake-effect snowstorms, which develop through surface buoyant instability and upward moisture transport from the Laurentian Great Lakes, lead to important local increases in snowfall to the south and east. Surface wind patterns during cold-air outbreaks often result in areas where the air is modified by more than one Great Lake. While it is known that boundary layer air that has crossed multiple lakes can produce particularly intense snow, few observations are available on the process by which this occurs. This study examines unique observations taken during the Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (OWLeS) field project to document the process by which Lake Erie influenced snowfall that was produced over Lake Ontario on 28 January 2014. During the event, lake-effect clouds and snow that developed over Lake Erie extended northeastward toward Lake Ontario. OWLeS and operational observations showed that the clouds from Lake Erie disappeared (and snow greatly decreased) as they approached the Lake Ontario shoreline. This clear-air zone was due to mesoscale subsidence, apparently due to the divergence of winds moving from land to the smoother lake surface. However, the influence of Lake Erie in producing a deeper lake-effect boundary layer, thicker clouds, increased turbulence magnitudes, and heavier snow was identified farther downwind over Lake Ontario. It is hypothesized that the combination of a low-stability, high-moisture boundary layer as well as convective eddies and limited snow particles crossing the mesoscale subsidence region locally enhanced the lake-effect system over Lake Ontario within the plume of air originating over Lake Erie.

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Peter G. Veals, W. James Steenburgh, and Leah S. Campbell

Abstract

The factors affecting the inland and orographic enhancement of lake-effect precipitation are poorly understood, yet critical for operational forecasting. Here we use nine cool seasons (16 November–15 April) of radar data from the Montague/Ft. Drum, New York (KTYX), WSR-88D, the North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR), and observations from the Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (OWLeS) field campaign to examine variations in lake-effect precipitation enhancement east of Lake Ontario and over the Tug Hill Plateau (hereafter Tug Hill). Key factors affecting the inland and orographic enhancement in this region include the strength of the incident boundary layer flow, the intensity of the lake-induced convective available potential energy (LCAPE), and the mode of the lake-effect system. Stronger flow favors higher precipitation rates, a precipitation maximum displaced farther downwind, and greater inland and orographic enhancement. The effects of LCAPE depend upon the strength of the flow. During periods of weak flow, higher LCAPE favors lower precipitation rates, a maximum closer to the shoreline, and lesser inland and orographic enhancement. During periods of strong flow, higher LCAPE favors higher precipitation rates, a maximum displaced farther downwind, and greater inland and orographic enhancement. Banded (nonbanded) modes favor higher (lower) precipitation rates, lesser (greater) inland and orographic enhancement, and a maximum closer to the shoreline (over Tug Hill). These results, for both manually measured and radar-estimated precipitation, are robust when many lake-effect events are considered, but substantial variability exists during individual events.

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Scott M. Steiger, Tyler Kranz, and Theodore W. Letcher

Abstract

The Ontario Winter Lake-Effect Systems (OWLeS) field campaign during the winter season of 2013/14 provided unprecedented data with regard to the structure and behavior of long-lake-axis-parallel (LLAP) lake-effect storms. One of the interesting characteristics of LLAP storm bands is their ability to initiate lightning. The OWLeS datasets provide an opportunity to examine more thoroughly the kinematics and microphysics of lake-effect thunder-snowstorms than ever before. The OWLeS facilities and field personnel observed six lake-effect thunderstorms during December–January 2013/14. Most of them produced very little lightning (fewer than six cloud-to-ground strokes or intracloud pulses recorded by the National Lightning Detection Network). The 7 January 2014 storm had over 50 strokes and pulses, however, which resulted in 20 flashes over a 6-h period (0630–1230 UTC), making it the most electrically active storm during the field campaign. Relative to the 18 December 2013 storm, which only had three flashes, the 7 January 2014 case had a deeper boundary layer and greater instability. Also, 45% of the lightning during the 7 January storm was likely due to flashes initiated by wind turbines or other man-made antennas, along with all of the lightning observed during 18 December. No lightning was documented over Lake Ontario, the primary source of instability for these storms.

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Seth Saslo and Steven J. Greybush

Abstract

Lake-effect snow (LES) is a cold-season mesoscale convective phenomenon that can lead to significant snowfall rates and accumulations in the Great Lakes region of the United States. While limited-area numerical weather prediction models have shown skill in prediction of warm-season convective storms, forecasting the sharp nature of LES precipitation timing, intensity, and location is difficult because of model error and initial and boundary condition uncertainties. Ensemble forecasting can incorporate and quantify some sources of forecast error, but ensemble design must be considered. This study examines the relative contributions of forecast uncertainties to LES forecast error using a regional convection-allowing data assimilation and ensemble prediction system. Ensembles are developed using various methods of perturbations to simulate a long-lived and high-precipitation LES event in December 2013, and forecast performance is evaluated using observations including those from the Ontario Winter Lake-Effect Systems (OWLeS) campaign. Model lateral boundary conditions corresponding to weather conditions beyond the Great Lakes region play an influential role in LES precipitation forecasts and their uncertainty, as evidenced by ensemble spread, particularly at lead times beyond one day. A strong forecast dependence on regional initial conditions was shown using data assimilation. This sensitivity impacts the timing and intensity of predicted precipitation, as well as band location and orientation assessed with an object-based verification approach, giving insight into the time scales of practical predictability of LES. Overall, an assimilation-cycling convection-allowing ensemble prediction system could improve future lake-effect snow precipitation forecasts and analyses and can help quantify and understand sources of forecast uncertainty.

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Jake P. Mulholland, Jeffrey Frame, Stephen W. Nesbitt, Scott M. Steiger, Karen A. Kosiba, and Joshua Wurman

Abstract

Recent lake-effect snow field projects in the eastern Great Lakes region have revealed the presence of misovortices with diameters between 40 and 4000 m along cyclonic horizontal shear zones within long-lake-axis-parallel bands. One particular band in which an abundance of misovortices developed occurred on 7 January 2014. The leading hypothesis for lake-effect misovortexgenesis is the release of horizontal shearing instability (HSI). An analysis of three-dimensional dual-Doppler wind syntheses reveals that two criteria for HSI are satisfied along the horizontal shear zone, strongly suggesting that HSI was the likely cause of the misovortices in this case. Furthermore, the general lack of anticyclonic–cyclonic vortex couplets throughout the event reveal that tilting of horizontal vorticity into the vertical is of less importance compared to the release of HSI and subsequent strengthening via vortex stretching. A WRF simulation depicts misovortices along the horizontal shear zone within the simulated band. The simulated vortices display remarkable similarities to the observed vortices in terms of intensity, depth, spacing, and size. The simulated vortices persist over the eastern end of the lake; however, once the vortices move inland, they quickly dissipate. HSI criteria are also calculated from the WRF simulation and are satisfied along the shear zone. Competing hypotheses of misovortexgenesis are presented, with results indicating that the release of HSI is the likely mechanism of vortex formation.

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Philip T. Bergmaier, Bart Geerts, Leah S. Campbell, and W. James Steenburgh

Abstract

Intense lake-effect snowfall results from a long-lake-axis-parallel (LLAP) precipitation band that often forms when the flow is parallel to the long axis of an elongated body of water, such as Lake Ontario. The intensity and persistence of the localized precipitation along the downwind shore and farther inland suggests the presence of a secondary circulation that helps organize such a band, and maintain it for some time as the circulation is advected inland. Unique airborne vertical-plane dual-Doppler radar data are used here to document this secondary circulation in a deep, well-organized LLAP band observed during intensive observing period (IOP) 2b of the Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (OWLeS) field campaign. The circulation, centered on a convective updraft, intensified toward the downwind shore and only gradually weakened inland. The question arises as to what sustains such a circulation in the vertical plane across the LLAP band. WRF Model simulations indicate that the primary LLAP band and other convergence zones observed over Lake Ontario during this IOP were initiated by relatively shallow airmass boundaries, resulting from a thermal contrast (i.e., land-breeze front) and differential surface roughness across the southern shoreline. Airborne radar data near the downwind shore of the lake indicate that the secondary circulation was much deeper than these shallow boundaries and was sustained primarily by rather symmetric solenoidal forcing, enhanced by latent heat release within the updraft region.

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