Thunder snow researcher at MU keeps tab on storm

Thursday, February 21, 2013 | 12:21 p.m. CST; updated 3:12 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 21, 2013

COLUMBIA — An MU meteorologist who previously worked to develop a thunder snow measuring system is sitting this storm out at home on his laptop.

Thunder was heard in the Columbia area Thursday morning, and thunderstorms producing 2 to 3 inches of snow per hour prompted the National Weather Service in Kansas City to increase totals to 10 to 14 inches along Interstate 70 in west-central Missouri.

Meteorologist Patrick Market said that snow chasing, the winter storm version of tornado chasing, can be risky and expensive. Snow chasing usually requires a large team working together with multiple vehicles and several researchers.

“It is really difficult to pinpoint and say, 'OK, Columbia is where we need to be,' and then actually have things happen in Columbia,” he said.

Even though he isn’t actively researching Thursday's storm, Market said he expects at least 6 inches of snow somewhere within 70 miles of where thunder occurs. That's in keeping with the National Weather Service forecast of 4 to 6 inches for Columbia.

According to the weather service, a Feb. 1, 2011, storm left Columbia with 17.7 inches of snow, but Market said only a few rumbles of thunder occurred during that event. A Nov. 30, 2006, storm featuring much more thunder and lightning produced 15.3 inches.

Thunderstorms with snow aren't different from thunderstorms in the summer. “It’s really, in principle, not that different from a summertime rain event,” he said. 

Thunder snow happens because different airstreams collide to produce a layer of warm air beneath a layer of cold air. Market's extensive thunder snow research is referenced in a Scientific American article from March 4, 2009. 

“There’s the appropriate mixture of ice crystals, snow and supercool water droplets,” Market said. “There’s actually a fair amount of water in the clouds. Everybody thinks it’s completely frozen, and that’s not true. It’s actually liquid water that hasn’t yet collided with a snow crystal.”

Here is a video from CNN of thunder snow caught on camera in Wichita, Kan.

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Michael Williams February 21, 2013 | 12:53 p.m.

This is the first major "comma"-shaped low pressure system I've seen cross mid-Missouri in well over a year. Such things mesh water vapor coming from the Gulf with a cold front from the north. Seems to me that most of our water over the last 18 months has come from the Pacific after passing over two mountain range rain shadows so there is little left for us.

Good news for us. Hooray! Better dayz ahead??????

I've not even gonna get mad at the snowplow driver for filling up my driveway entrance 3rd times. Doubt remains about the 4th time, tho.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 21, 2013 | 12:56 p.m.

Right now.....snowin' snowballs.

My woods are gorgeous. Looks like I got 10" so far. I've already taken off the first 5 inches because I would rather shovel two 5 inchers instead of 1 ten incher.

Of course, I may end up doing 3 five inchers if this keeps up.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking February 22, 2013 | 5:24 a.m.

About 11 inches here this morning. Very happy and cozy woodstove. Do need to go in to work but am fortunately close enough that a walk isn't too demanding.

I understand Columbia has snow routes, where people aren't supposed to park on the street when snow exceeds x amount. I also don't think they're enforced to any extent (just like they don't enforce sidewalk clearing by homeowners). Hopefully some of the people that complain about snow removal aren't also those that have parked impediments to plowing in front of their houses.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 22, 2013 | 7:04 a.m.

@ Mark Foecking:

Fascinating. Here, we only received 6 inches - in the land of ever-drifting snow, where there are "nine months of winter and 3 months of poor outdoor ice skating."

The forecast called for the snow to begin at 3 PM; the first flakes fell at exactly 3:00 PM. Evening rush hour was a zoo!

Our subdivision consists entirely of geriatrics (ages 66-92), so we can sit by our (natural gas) fireplaces and look comfortably out at the snow. :)

(Report Comment)

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