Doppler-on-Wheels To Chase Oswego’s Lake Effect Snows

OSWEGO, NY – Dr. Scott Steiger, assistant professor of meteorology, and Distinguished Service Professor Al Stamm at SUNY Oswego received an $86,000 National Science Foundation grant that included the loan of one of the foundation’s three flatbed-mounted Doppler radar units (DoW).

The deal also included as a probe truck bristling with additional data-gathering gear and two “tornado pods” to plant in the path of powerful lake-effect snowstorms.

Dr. Scott Steiger explains about the Doppler-on-Wheels to a group of OHS science students.
Dr. Scott Steiger explains about the Doppler-on-Wheels to a group of OHS science students.

On Tuesday, Steiger brought the DoW and his high-energy love of “active weather” to Oswego High School.

Prior to meeting a classroom packed with nearly 100 students, he took time for an interview with WBUC, the school’s TV station.

Last week, the NSF delivered the trucks and other gear to SUNY Oswego from Boulder, Colo., Steiger said.

He didn’t get the chance to train on it yet. Just about immediately on being delivered, the equipment was put to work during last week’s lake-effect storms, he explained.

The Doppler-on-Wheels’ sophisticated radars are capable of distinguishing among precipitation types inside storms: raindrops, graupel and snowflakes, he said, adding they collected some interesting data during the storm.

Steiger also recalled one time he was chasing severe weather at night.

“I would never take that chance now. When I take students with me, we chase in the daytime. We have the internet with us; we have radar with us so we can see exactly where the storm is. So it’s very safe, we stay miles away from it,” he said.

Storm chasing isn’t something a novice should do, he cautioned.

It’s probably the most expensive vehicle he will ever drive, he said of the approximately $1 million DoW.

Christina Dehm, of WBUC, interviews Dr. Scott Steiger before class.
Christina Dehm, of WBUC, interviews Dr. Scott Steiger before class.

After Steiger gave the students in Jason Guild’s classes some background about himself and weather, they went outside to explore the huge Doppler-on-Wheels.

The vehicle, originally constructed to chase and study tornadoes, will study lake effect snowstorms while in the Port City.

“I went storm chasing with (Steiger) a few years ago and he received a grant to bring in the Doppler on Wheels. We wanted to show it to my students,” Guild said. “He is going to be researching lake effect snow and chasing snow bands to get a better idea of what is going on inside of area storms. This is a wonderful opportunity for our students here at Oswego High School.”

“The National Science Foundation is trying to branch out into other areas of meteorology and this grant allows us to use this equipment to study lake effect snow,” Steiger explained. “Lake effect snow is very intense, but very localized. However, the clouds are kind of shallow so the traditional radar around the area can’t see the storms very well. We are going to drive up right next to the storm and get really high resolution data.”

He has always had an intense focus on weather.

He graduated from SUNY Oswego in 1999 with a meteorology degree.

“I grew up in Rochester and I really enjoyed lake effect snow. I heard of this mythical place called Oswego because they get all this snow. So, of course, this was one of my top schools to go to,” Steiger said. “And then I went to graduate school at Texas A&M as far away from lake effect as you can get.”

It was at A&M when he got involved in chasing tornados.

He describes himself as an active weather junkie.

He returned to Oswego and shifted his focus back on the legendary lake effect snows.

“Lake effect storms are interesting as it will be sunny one minute and if you are traveling from Oswego to Fulton a minute later you can be in a blizzard,” he noted. “This is a unique phenomena as nowhere else in the world gets the kind of snow we receive here in Central New York. In fact Oswego holds the world record for the most amount of snow in one hour as nine inches fell in 1970.”

The storm last week that resulted in a snow day for the students dropped four inches an hour, he said.

“It didn’t last that long but luckily for you it came right at the wrong time for school; between 7 and 9 a.m. it snowed really heavy,” he told the students. “The rest of the day wasn’t bad.”

Using the contacts he made at A&M, he orchestrated getting the DoW to come east.

There is a network of radars around the country that monitor weather.

“However, they are stationary,” Steiger said. “The weather’s not going to come to us, we’re going to it. With the Doppler-on-Wheels we will be able to go right to the weather with our storm chasing radar truck.”

During last week’s storm, Steiger said they drove though it and there was a significant drop in barometric pressure.

“Also we were surprised to see little circulations over the lake that were like mini tornadoes,” he added. “We have never seen these before. It will be very interesting to analyze the data.”

One of his goals is to be able to better predict how quickly the snow is falling and make life safer for the residents of Central New York.

He also wants to excite the students and get them interested in meteorology.

Steiger visited with one OHS Meteorology class, two Honors Earth Science classes and a Regents Earth Science class crowded into Guild’s classroom.

“I really hope we can interest some of these students in the world of meteorology. This is an exciting area for weather and we live in a very unique environment,” he said.

He playfully poked fun at the “winter outlook” many TV stations have been reporting.

“You can’t forecast to the public beyond five days,” he said he tells the TV weathercasters. “You can’t. It’s not accurate. They do it because they want to attract viewers. I told Chris Brandolino, a personal friend (Channel 9 meteorologist and another SUNY Oswego grad) you can’t do that. We don’t have the skill to predict long-range. This is the limit of our science, four or five days. And even that can be way off.”

Scott Steiger talked to Oswego High School science students as he brought the “Doppler-on-Wheels” for a visit.
Scott Steiger talked to Oswego High School science students as he brought the “Doppler-on-Wheels” for a visit.

A month ago they were predicting a below average (snow) winter for Syracuse, he said, adding they are now about 8 inches away from having the snowiest month – ever.

It’s still a worthwhile field, to forecast weather, “Because we are getting better,” he told the students.

He encouraged the students to be like kindergarteners – don’t be afraid to keep asking questions.

“Find something that you enjoy. Because the richest person on this planet is not someone who has a lot of money. It’s someone who goes to work every day and it’s like a vacation,” he said.

But, he added, his job isn’t a dream job all the time.

“I hate grading,” he admitted. “We have to do it. We have to have some way to evaluate that you’re learning. But, this, you guys asking questions, me being able to answer them, that’s fun. This is the bets part of my job.”