By Steven Slater
Steven is majoring in Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, and his primary interest is extreme weather.
Ever since I can remember, I enjoyed watching the rare thunderstorms whenever they occurred in Western Washington. I often had to wait a year or more between seeing individual lightning bolts. I often watched The Weather Channel as my main source of weather-related content, whether it had to do with storms or snow. My mind was blown as I watched the reported snow totals rise close to 12 feet for the lake-effect vent in February 2007.
The lowlands of Western Washington don’t receive much snow, so I had to wait for that, too, though it happened more frequently than thunderstorms. I was an advocate for receiving as much snow as possible in the shortest time. The biggest event I experienced in Washington was in December 2008, where I remember playing in ~15 inches of snow at the peak of the event.
After moving to Maryland several years later, I routinely took videos of passing severe thunderstorms that happened two or three times a year. In 2016, I experienced 30 inches of snow (with 22 inches of depth due to compacting) at home due to a Nor’easter. A year later, there was another Nor’easter that brought a neat ice storm that solidified the top inch or so of snow and sleet.
I think intense winter weather is fun as long as it doesn’t drag on for too long, and as long as I don’t have to drive in it. Ideally, if residents and services were more aware of small areas where ice amounts were consistently higher in most ice storms, they would also be aware of the increased risk of black ice and downed power lines and branches. Of course, this all depends on whether my research will be able to find those small areas in the first place.
Since coming to South Dakota Mines, I had an idea that maybe if I could compare maps of different weather variables like annual rainfall and snowfall, I might be able to decide where I want to live based on how much of each kind of weather I want. I also wanted a relatively high frequency of thunderstorms and tornadoes, which led me to the southern Plains. I still wanted a reasonable shot at snow, so most of Texas was out. I specifically remember wanting freezing rain to be a part of this process too.
Oklahoma has a little bit of everything. So far, I’m the only person I know of that has said that. It turns out that Oklahoma, as a relative hotspot in terms of storms and tornadoes, also has occasional strong ice storms. Going from there, I want to narrow down which region of Oklahoma I would prefer based on smaller climate details. Looking for the most icing-prone areas would be another point of detail for that.
For my capstone, I will be researching the locations in Oklahoma where ice storms may be the most intense. Freezing rain is rain that freezes into ice upon touching the ground. It occurs when raindrops fall into air that is below freezing while the raindrops themselves remain liquid. For freezing rain to exist, those warmer and colder layers of air need to be there first. I’m going to research what changes those ingredients in the region, such as winds from the Gulf of Mexico, or heat within cities. I’m also going to look at past storms and their impacts–particularly the areas of highest impacts.
This is the second in a series. Please also check out the first post by STS student Louise Swanson: “Balancing Expectations: Preserving the Nature and History in South Dakota.”