I drove through this on way home from work last night.
NOW I HAVE SUPER POWERS!!!!
Sometimes, you don’t need a lake to get lake-effect snow. A complex of power plants will do the job just as well.
Meteorologists at the National Weather Service’s office in Moon Township noticed something Tuesday night they apparently don’t see too often — a snow band, stretching for miles from western Beaver County across northern Allegheny County.
The band, which dropped a quick inch of snow in some places, didn’t originate at Lake Erie.
It came from the power plants at Shippingport.
OK, before you start with the jokes about nuclear winter, NWS meteorologist Lee Hendricks says there’s nothing sinister going on here. Rather, it’s just a matter of what happens when cold air meets steam.
“You had plumes of warm, moist air coming from the cooling towers of the power plants, and that was meeting the cold air we’ve had in place this week,” Hendricks said. “When the warm, moist air comes in contact with the cold air, it condenses and (Tuesday), it fell as snow.”
Actually, it fell as a lot of snow, in a very limited area. The screen cap shows the snow band stretching from a narrow ribbon at Shippingport and then spreading out as it stretched across Marshall, Pine and Richland townships. In those townships — and especially in the Wexford area, Hendricks said — the cooling tower-powered snow dumped an inch of snow or more very quickly.
“It’s the same process as lake-effect snow,” he said. “We just saw it on a very limited scale here.”
FirstEnergy, which operates both the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station and the coal-fired Bruce Mansfield Power Plant, pumps out a lot of warm, wet air from the cooling towers at both plants, spokeswoman Jennifer Young said. The 90-degree water from a single Beaver Valley stack evaporates at a rate of about 10,000 gallons a minute, and output from the Bruce Mansfield plant is about the same.
And when the two Beaver Valley towers and the three Bruce Mansfield towers are all running at the same time — as they were on Tuesday — that’s more then enough steam to power a mini lake-effect event.
Or, perhaps, a more apt comparison would be the snow guns that coat ski areas with man-made snow when Mother Nature isn’t feeling cooperative. Anna Weltz, spokeswoman for Seven Springs Mountain Resort, said the principle is the same.
“We pump very cold water from our storage lakes down to the guns and that water is met with compressed air,” Weltz said. “When that spray meets the cold air — the colder, the better — it turns into snow.”
Weltz said Seven Springs can make snow when the temperatures reach 28 degrees, but colder and drier is better.
“Twenty-six seems to be the magic number for light, dry snow,” she said. “Anything warmer than that can mean you get something wet and sloppy, something closer to rain.”
Hendricks, who lives in Hookstown, said that happens around Shippingport as well, especially in the spring and fall.
“Those plants can actually generate a drizzle when the conditions are right,” he said. “Shippingport has its own micro-climate, thanks to the power plants.”
I pledge to use my new powers only for good!