We deployed that morning to a rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert where a dark cloud rose from the desert floor and we headed straight into the storm. If you have no idea what that means, watch the video below.
More accurately, we set up along the side of the causeway to Stansbury Island, just north of the Tooele Valley. When I drove out to meet the team, the surface front had already pushed into the northern Tooele Valley, with low level "fractus clouds" seen in the photo below at levels just abouve the ground, near its leading nose. At this time, the front was quite shallow.
The rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert was actually the Stansbury Island Causeway, ideal for surveying the frontal structure over the Tooele Valley and precipitation processes over the Oquirrh Mountains. We could also can over the Stansbury Mountains (background below).
The shallow nature of the front was very apparent in the radar data we collected. A Doppler radar is capable of measuring how fast scatterers in the atmosphere, in this case snow and rain, are moving toward or away from the radar. This allows us to use radar scans, known as PPIs, which are oriented at a slight angle to the horizon, to infer changes in the wind across the area and in the vertical. In the plot below, cool colors represent flow toward the radar, warm away, with the radar in the middle of the image. There is a clear indication of flow from the northwest near the radar and south-southwest at ranges more removed from the radar site. Since the radar scan is tilted at a slight angle to the horizon, this is an indication of strong vertical wind shear in the frontal zone not far above the Earth's surface.
We can also configure the DOW to scan in vertical slices, known as RHIs. The RHI below is oriented to the east and scans over the southern Great Salt Lake, eventually hitting the lower slope of the Oquirrh Mountains near Point of the Mountain where they rise above the south lake shore. Doppler velocities in this image are primarily away from the radar, consistent with northwesterly flow, except near the ground just to the west of Point of the Mountain. This reflects the splitting of flow around the north end of the Oquirrh Mountains, with the flow there having perhaps a slight NNE component, which results in a weak flow component toward the radar (green).
The DOW is also a polarimetric radar, which means it sends out and receives radar energy in two planes, one horizontal and one vertical. The shape of the raindrops or snowflakes can be inferred using this information. One product we use to do this is known as "differential reflectivity," with reflectivity the amount of radar energy is scattered by back to the radar. If the horizontal and vertical radar energy is similar, the differential reflectivity is zero, and the precipitation is likely circular. If on the other hand, the horizontal radar energy is larger, then the precipitation is wider than it is high, and the differential reflectivity is positive. Dendritic snow, those wonderful flakes with six arms that produce blower powder, often produces high differential reflectivity, because the flakes tend to fall "flat."
The RHI below shows two layers of high differential reflectivity (indicated by yellows). One is near the ground and reflects the melting layer in which snowflakes are sticking together and falling relatively flat. The other is farther aloft and likely reflects a layer in which dendrites are growing and falling. The temperatures in this layer were likely between -12ºC and -18ºC, which favors the formation of dendrites.
An interesting aspect of the storm was a near-complete lack of any enhancement of precipitation over the mountains. It was a frontally forced event, rather than a mountain forced event. In fact, it clearly precipitated more over the Tooele Valley than over the Oquirrh Mountains. Only in the late stages of the event did the front finally decide to move over the Oquirrhs. An example is the RHI of horizontal radar reflectivity below, taken looking east-south-east across the northern Oquirrhs. The yellows are ground clutter from the radar energy bouncing off the Earth's surface, with the sloping area representing the western slope of the Oquirrh Mountains. Above the ground clutter, the transition from light to dark blue reflects increasing precipitation toward the mountains, but this doesn't reflect an orographic effect, but is the frontal band as it moved into the Oquirrh Mountains.
It's such a pity that the storm didn't produce much in the Wasatch. However, thanks to the mobile capabilities of the DOW, we were able to go to the storm and get a wonderful dataset.