Nuclear Power Plant Effect Snow

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By Stephen Gode on January 24, 2013, 12:30am Last modified: January 25, 2013, 10:04am

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On January 22, 2013, a small narrow band of snow occurred Northwest of Pittsburgh (story by the US National Weather Service Pittsburgh PA). In Shippingport, Pennsylvania, Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Plant and potentially also Bruce Mansfield Generating Station, which is a coal-burning power plant (certainly must be at least two cooling towers by the look of the radar), produced enough heat and steam (moist air) from cooling towers into the very cold, dry air mass to aid in the development of some snow (maybe similar to snowmaking). Also, the Ohio River nearby that meanders, but runs generally west to east may have aided very slightly for additional moisture. The power plants are the main source, though. There was enough lift and just enough convergence into a narrow band downstream over Allegheny and Beaver counties from a westerly wind for snow development and to be noticed on radar (NWS radar photo above).

This event is on the lower end of the lake effect snow horizontal scale (generally 20-200 km) and mesoscale meteorology (few to several hundred km), but not quite microscale meteorology, which is atmospheric motions having the  horizontal scales of about 2 km or less.

At the start of the event, nearby surface temperature readings were about ten degrees Fahrenheit. At the end of the event, nearby surface temperature reading dropped to near zero degrees Fahrenheit. Although, most locations really did not report snow, because of how local this event was. Surface temperatures certainly could have been different where it was snowing.

The snow band developed around 5 to 6 pm Tuesday evening and continued until about midnight. Meteorologist Quincy Vagell heard of these events producing 30:1 snow ratios (30 inches of snow melted to 1 inch of liquid), which this event may have been close to this snow ratio. Snowfall reports were up to about an inch or two, which quickly covered the roads and caused major traffic delays (reports by wpxi). So, if the snow ratio was 30:1, then possibly the snowfall liquid equivalent measurements could have ranged up to about 0.03 to 0.07 inches. It is also possible the snow ratio was about 15:1.  Unfortunately, it is tough to determine exactly the snow ratio. Snow samples, measurements, and soundings would be needed during and throughout the event to know for sure.

Photo by wpxi of the road conditions and snowfall of this event:

According to the National Weather Service, the area of snow produced was up to about two miles wide. Also, the snow band extended east up to about 30 miles from the power plant (or maybe two plants as stated from Climate Central article) over southeast Beaver County and northern Allegheny County.  

Jesse Ferrell posted an article about this event on his blog., Jesse Ferrell’s photo is below of the 3-D and 2-D radar using the GRAnalyst software.

This snow is not literally nuclear snow. Fortunately, the snow has no elevated levels of radiation. The snow is safe, but still slippery like any other typical snowfall. 

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Stephen Gode

Town: North Haven, CT  

Reporting for WXedge since September 2012.

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