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New Field Campaign to Study Snow Processes at Remote Mountain Laboratory in Colorado

May 6, 2024

Picture of Angela Rowe on Mountain in Colorado
AOS Professor Angela Rowe in Colorado in 2020

The U.S. Mountain West is becoming warmer and has seen declines in overall snowpack, low-elevation snow cover, and an increase in rain-on-snow events. Yet projections of precipitation in the region remain highly variable. A new National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded field campaign, Snow Sensitivity to Clouds in a Mountain Environment (S2noCliME), aims to improve understanding of cloud and precipitation processes and forecasting in mountainous regions.

Angela Rowe, AOS professor, is one of the Principal Investigators of the study. Claire Pettersen, climate and space sciences and engineering professor at the University of Michigan and AOS alumna (MS 2014 and PhD 2017), is the lead Principal Investigator. Other participating institutions include Colorado State University, Stony Brook University, the University of Utah, and the University of Washington. Rowe’s expertise is in cloud microphysics, mountain meteorology, and radar meteorology, and she brings extensive field experience to the campaign.

“I’m excited to be a part of this project and experienced team collecting a unique season-long dataset,” says Rowe. “With snowpack-related water availability becoming an increasingly important topic, being able to observe the variability of snow processes across the whole winter in an interior mountain range will provide a new understanding of large- and local-scale controls on snowfall rates and improve our ability to infer properties of the falling snow from weather radars.”

Over the upcoming 2024-25 winter season, the researchers will deploy a combination of ground-based, remote sensing, and in situ (in cloud) instruments at Storm Peak Laboratory near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The lab’s location on top of Mt. Werner provides a unique opportunity for data collection, as Rowe notes:

“Historically, most of this type of work has used aircraft outfitted with cloud probing instrumentation to sample clouds, which is very expensive. The Storm Peak Laboratory provides instrumentation at a location often shrouded in clouds that serves as a stationary in situ measurement facility, allowing for longer periods of observations and thus rare statistics on these relationships between what is happening in the cloud and the characteristics of snow falling and accumulating on the ground.”

Joining Rowe from the UW–Madison team is Marian Mateling, AOS research scientist, and an incoming graduate student. Mateling looks forward to returning to field work, albeit in a new environment. She says, “I’m excited to be able to collaborate with so many incredible researchers and work in the field again. My research includes finding connections between cloud and precipitation properties (phase, intensity, etc.) and the broader weather patterns in which they exist. Having only looked at ‘flat’ terrain previously, I look forward to investigating these processes in mountainous regions.”

The project is another chapter of AOS’ history at Storm Peak Laboratory. Before the pandemic, faculty and students would visit the lab for class projects and field experience. Rowe hopes to bring that tradition back – she visited the lab as a student herself at Colorado State University – and it’s another reason why S2noCliME has created such a buzz in the department.

Ankur Desai, AOS department chair, says, “Professor Angela Rowe is a maverick when it comes to creative advances of studying precipitation processes in the atmosphere with radars and models. I look forward to seeing what her team, likely incorporating many of our students in AOS, learns about snowfall in this exciting new study.”

Preparations begin this summer, and the project officially starts on December 1, 2024. Stay tuned for more coverage, including updates from the field and research findings.