Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tug Hill Dreams

"Most climbers aren't in fact deranged, they're just infected with a particularly virulent strain of the Human Condition"
–John Krakauer, Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains

"Ditto for meteorologists"
–Wasatch Weather Weenies

I embark tomorrow for a mythical place in the eyes of meteorologists, the Tug Hill Plateau of upstate New York.  Unlike the Eiger, subject of John Krakauer's book, there is really nothing topographically imposing about the Tug Hill Plateau.  It rises very gradually to a maximum elevation of about 2000 feet, roughly 1750 feet above the level of Lake Ontario.  It is also covered by dense eastern forests, offering few views.  There are no steep slopes, except for a an escarpment on the east side that rises a few hundred vertical feet and is home to the Tug Hill Plateau's only Alpine ski area, Snow Ridge.  

What makes the Tug Hill Plateau so special to meteorologists is snow.  Despite it's modest elevation, the Tug Hill Plateau is one of the snowiest places in the eastern United States.  The Hamlet of Hooker (yes, that's the name), elevation ~1500 feet, averages 238 inches of snow a year, with greater totals possible in other areas.  Much of this snow is produced by lake effect, which is generated over Lake Ontario with an assist in some events by the modification of cold airmasses by upstream Great Lakes.  If you think the Great Salt Lake produces big lake-effect storms, think again.  A ten-day lake-effect storm in February 2007 produced 141 inches of snow in Redfield on the western slope of the Tug Hill Plateau.  From January 11–12, 1997, an observer in Montague recorded a 24-hour snowfall of 77 inches.  This total was based on six individual snowfall observations, so it is not recognized as the US snowfall record, but storm totals for the event illustrate the dramatic influence of the Tug Hill on lake-effect storms. 

Source: NOAA (1997)
The objective for my trip is to find observing sites for the Ontario Winter Lake-effect Systems (OWLeS) Project, a National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored field campaign that will take place  next winter to improve our understanding of lake-effect storms.  There are many institutions involved and multiple objectives for this project, but the Mountain Meteorology Group here at the University of Utah is concentrating on the enhancement of long-axis lake-effect snowbands that extend from Lake Ontario over the Tug Hill Plateau.  A conceptual schematic of planned field operations is below and include a number of resources including the University of Wyoming King Air research aircraft and Center for Severe Weather Research Doppler on Wheels radars.  

Although we'll miss part of next year's powder season in Utah, we are pretty excited about this project as it will allow us to greatly advance our understanding of how complex terrain affects lake-effect storms.  

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