Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (OWLeS)

Description:

This special collection brings together research related to the Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (OWLeS) field project, which took place in December 2013 and January 2014. OWLeS focused primarily on lake-effect snow systems over and near Lake Ontario, including several that produced snowfalls of 1-2 m in the Tug Hill Plateau in northern New York State. OWLeS sought to document the characteristics and processes involved in the development of lake-effect snow systems, especially the evolution of the planetary boundary layer under spatially varying surface forcing, lake-effect cloud, snow and lightning development, connections between meso- and micro-scale convective structures, and interactions between lake-effect systems and downwind topographic features. Observation platforms deployed during the two-month field project included three Doppler-on-Wheels radars operated by the Center for Severe Weather Research; The University of Wyoming King Air with the Wyoming Cloud Radar and Wyoming Cloud Lidar; University of Alabama at Huntsville’s Mobile Integrated Profile System (MIPS); Millersville University’s Profiling System (MUPS); five university-owned mobile radiosonde systems provided by University of Illinois, Millersville University, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, University of Utah and the State University of New York Oswego; four micro rain radars; and a wide range of surface precipitation observations. The data collected during the OWLeS field project, available at http://data.eol.ucar.edu/master_list/?project=OWLeS, will provide research opportunities and scientific insights for years to come.

Collection organizer:
David Kristovich, ISWS, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (OWLeS)

Sudheer R. Bhimireddy
and
David A. R. Kristovich

Abstract

This study evaluates the methods of identifying the height zi of the top of the convective boundary layer (CBL) during winter (December and January) over the Great Lakes and nearby land areas using observations taken by the University of Wyoming King Air research aircraft during the Lake-Induced Convection Experiment (1997/98) and Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (2013/14) field campaigns. Since CBLs facilitate vertical mixing near the surface, the most direct measurement of zi is that above which the vertical velocity turbulent fluctuations are weak or absent. Thus, we use zi from the turbulence method as the “reference value” to which zi from other methods, based on bulk Richardson number (Ri b ), liquid water content, and vertical gradients of potential temperature, relative humidity, and water vapor mixing ratio, are compared. The potential temperature gradient method using a threshold value of 0.015 K m−1 for soundings over land and 0.011 K m−1 for soundings over lake provided the estimates of zi that are most consistent with the turbulence method. The Ri b threshold-based method, commonly used in numerical simulation studies, underestimated zi . Analyzing the methods’ performance on the averaging window z avg we recommend using z avg = 20 or 50 m for zi estimations for lake-effect boundary layers. The present dataset consists of both cloudy and cloud-free boundary layers, some having decoupled boundary layers above the inversion top. Because cases of decoupled boundary layers appear to be formed by nearby synoptic storms, we recommend use of the more general term, elevated mixed layers.

Significance Statement

The depth zi of the convective atmospheric boundary layer (CBL) strongly influences precipitation rates during lake-effect snowstorms (LES). However, various zi approximation methods produce significantly different results. This study utilizes extensive concurrently collected observations by project aircraft during two LES field studies [Lake-Induced Convection Experiment (Lake-ICE) and OWLeS] to assess how zi from common estimation methods compare with “reference” zi derived from turbulent fluctuations, a direct measure of CBL mixing. For soundings taken both over land and lake; with cloudy or cloud-free conditions, potential temperature gradient (PTG) methods provided the best agreement with the reference zi . A method commonly employed in numerical simulations performed relatively poorly. Interestingly, the PTG method worked equally well for “coupled” and elevated decoupled CBLs, commonly associated with nearby cyclones.

Open access
Steven J. Greybush
,
Todd D. Sikora
,
George S. Young
,
Quinlan Mulhern
,
Richard D. Clark
, and
Michael L. Jurewicz Sr.

Abstract

Data from rawinsondes launched during intensive observation periods (IOPs) of the Ontario Winter Lake-Effect Systems (OWLeS) field project reveal that elevated mixed layers (EMLs) in the lower troposphere were relatively common near Lake Ontario during OWLeS lake-effect events. Conservatively, EMLs exist in 193 of the 290 OWLeS IOP soundings. The distribution of EML base pressure derived from the OWLeS IOP soundings reveals two classes of EML, one that has a relatively low-elevation base (900–750 hPa) and one that has a relatively high-elevation base (750–500 hPa). It is hypothesized that the former class of EML, which is the focus of this research, is, at times, the result of mesoscale processes related to individual Great Lakes. WRF reanalysis fields from a case study during the OWLeS field project provide evidence of two means by which low-elevation base EMLs can originate from the lake-effect boundary layer convection and associated mesoscale circulations. First, such EMLs can form within the upper-level outflow branches of mesoscale solenoidal circulations. Evacuated Great Lakes–modified convective boundary layer air aloft then lies above ambient air of a greater static stability, forming EMLs. Second, such EMLs can form in the absence of a mesoscale solenoidal circulation when Great Lake–modified convective boundary layers overrun ambient air of a greater density. The reanalysis fields show that EMLs and layers of reduced static stability tied to Great Lakes–modified convective boundary layers can extend downwind for hundreds of kilometers from their areas of formation. Operational implications and avenues for future research are discussed.

Restricted access
W. James Steenburgh
,
Julie A. Cunningham
,
Philip T. Bergmaier
,
Bart Geerts
, and
Peter Veals

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.

Restricted access
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.

Free access
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.

Full access
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.

Open access
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.

Full access
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.

Full access
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.

Full access
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.

Full access