Featured image: Dr. Scott Steiger, Professor of Meteorology

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Meteorology students at SUNY Oswego are taking part in a multi-million-dollar project funded by the National Science Foundation to study lake effect lightning events east of Lake Ontario.

Between the months of September and March the Lake Effect Electrification, or LEE project will take the first ever measurements of the electrical structure of lake-effect snow clouds and infer how lightning within them is related to precipitation processes in the clouds.

“Winter storm chasing, but with more expensive toys”, is how Professor of Meteorology Dr. Scott Steiger describes the LEE project being done this winter east of Lake Ontario. The project aims to get a closer look at lightning within the lake effect clouds and to study its impacts on wind turbines over the Tug Hill Plateau. 

“I mean, this is kind of neat lightning in that a lot of the lightning that happens in turbines is initiated and propagates upwards, right? You know it’s called upward initiated lightning, so if we can better understand how these processes happen maybe we can find ways to protect the turbines from getting damaged by the lightning,” Steiger said.

While the work ahead will be a challenge, Dr. Steiger says the best part for him is the students getting outside in the field.

“In meteorology, as you know, our laboratory is outside, right? I mean being in the classroom is important, but actually being out and witnessing it and feeling and smelling the weather, and using all your senses to experience the atmosphere, that’s where a meteorologist really learns about how the weather ticks,” Steiger said.

Garrett Statum, a senior meteorology major who’s a part of the project is excited to have the opportunity to observe something that’s never been done before.

“I’m very excited. I need to make sure to dress warmly because we’ll be out in December, January on the Tug Hill; coming from the south I don’t have a lot of good winter clothes, so before I get excited I better be prepared,” Statum says.

For other senior meteorology students, like Jake Rumowicz the project is more than just studying lightning, it’s also about the future of renewable energy. 

“It’s gonna be a lot of responsibility I feel like, and it’s gonna be a lot of hard work, but at the same time, like I just know that it’s gonna be a lot of fun and this will be just like a worthwhile experience,” Rumowicz says.

There are 22 undergraduate students involved in the project, but students from other schools are invited to participate and follow along with what they’re doing as the project gets underway.

Some of the instruments involved include around 15 lightning mapping array sensors that will be placed around the Tug Hill, giant weather balloons used to take profiles of the atmosphere measuring temperature, dew point, humidity, etc., special cameras that take photos inside the lake effect band, a Doppler on Wheels (DOW) truck, and even snowmobiles for retrieving the sensors that are launched up with the weather balloons. It takes 9 people to launch one of the weather balloons mentioned above; 7 of these people assisting will be students. Two senior students will be forecasting along with Dr. Steiger, determining when and where the lake effect will happen.

The main focus of the study will be on the Tug Hull, especially where Maple Wood Turbines is located where there is a hot spot for lightning initiation, but they will also be looking at other lake events that carry into parts of central New York throughout the season.

You can follow them on their Twitter @nsf_lee!