Winter break’s heavy snows and a radar-lugging vehicle known as a Doppler-on-Wheels have enabled Professor Scott Steiger ’99 and several meteorology students to witness never-before-seen phenomena — like a line of seven tornado-like waterspouts in one lake-effect storm — and to collect unique data.
The first-of-its-kind use for the million-dollar vehicle — best known for chasing tornados in Discovery Channel programs — also has attracted local media, national scientific press and international filmmaking attention.
A six-person British Broadcasting Corp. crew filmed Oswego’s lake-effect chasers one January weekend for a planned Discovery Channel series called “23 Degrees,” a yearlong global journey in search of stories to reveal Earth’s relationship with the sun. (The title refers to the tilt of Earth’s axis in relationship to the sun.)
Director Charles Colville, physicist and presenter Helen Czerski and coworkers “enjoyed” perfect conditions for their planned
segment on the prodigious snow machines that Steiger has named long-lake axis parallel (LLAP) lake-effect storms. It was
a cold, busy weekend.
The crew arrived in Oswego Thursday night Jan. 13 and spent Friday and Saturday filming an exhaustive series of scenes and interviews — including some with a helicopter — before following Steiger, Josh Wurman of the Center for Severe Weather Research in Boulder and meteorology students as they chased a storm that dumped up to 20 lake-effect inches on Oswego County and its neighbors.
Steiger and co-principal investigator Al Stamm, distinguished service professor and earth sciences chair, won an $86,000 National Science Foundation grant and the loan of NSF-owned equipment like the DOW.
The DOW’s dual polarimetric radar — it scans vertically as well as horizontally — enables the scientists to measure the speed of descent of particles in the storm, allowing categorization and, eventually, Steiger trusts, a better tool for predicting the volume of snow and the duration of storms.
Media attention followed the DOW nearly since it arrived in mid-December. Oswego High School students heard a talk by Steiger and toured the vehicle on Dec. 21; reporter Racquel Asa of WSYR-TV in Syracuse followed the DOW in action on Jan. 4; and a Jan. 11 NSF feature story on Oswego’s research ran on a variety of websites, including one in Germany.
— Jeff Rea ’71