Tired: Lake-effect snow. Wired: Industrial processing plant snow.
On Monday, Nebraskans downwind of Norfolk, a small town northwest of Omaha, were treated to two inches of snow. The swath of snow came courtesy of industrial plants that sit on Norfolk’s east side, and it picked up again on Tuesday morning sending industry-made flakes as far south as Omaha.
The National Weather Service first noticed the snow band on radar. Images showed precipitation basically coming out of nowhere on Monday evening. But nowhere in this case turned out to be the industrial plants near Norfolk, which include a steel manufacturing plant and an ethanol processing facility that are likely responsible for the artificial flakes.
Check this out. Here is a loop of the snow induced from the plants in Norfolk. This loop starts yesterday at 7am and goes through today at 7am. Watch as the snow finally blows off toward the east around 4am this morning. #newx #iawx pic.twitter.com/u1bxieigIJ— NWS Omaha (@NWSOmaha) December 4, 2018
This sites put off vast amounts of steam and exhaust. As the plumes rose into the atmosphere, it seems they added heft to clouds. National Weather Service weather balloon data also shows that there was an inversion—a meteorological phenomenon where it’s warmer in the upper atmosphere than the lower atmosphere—which essentially capped how high steam could rise. Add in temperatures in the mid-20s, and you have ideal industrial snow conditions.
December in Nebraska: ponds at ends of fields after 1-2” of rain on partially frozen soil topped with a few inches of snow aided by the steam from nearby industrial plant. ????♂️ pic.twitter.com/TeZA4WeiH5— Tyler Williams (@tylerw_unl) December 4, 2018
The process is similar to lake-effect snow, which occurs when cold air moves over relatively warm open water and pull up vast quantities of moisture. But in this case, the source is much more isolated and the impacts are even more so, with a band of snow only a few miles wide.
This isn’t the first instance of unintentionally manufactured snow being caught on radar, nor is the first occurrence of radar capturing some wild weather. Power plants caused it to any more real.