Meteorologist: Steam from Norfolk industry helped create snow

December 4, 2018

A rare weather situation created a flurry of questions for meteorologists at the Omaha/Valley office of the National Weather Service early Monday afternoon.

Brian Barjenbruch, science and operations officer with the Omaha/Valley office, said extra steam introduced into the atmosphere by industrial plants in the Norfolk area was enough to create a band that brought snow to the ground as far south as Interstate 80.

“The atmosphere already had a ton of moisture in low levels,” he said. “When the extra steam was introduced, it brought more moisture and a little bit of warmth and that gets into some crazy meteorology.”

Barjenbruch said the situation is highly unusual, but there have been instances across the country where similar events have occurred.

The weather service office in Omaha/Valley posted on its social media sites late Monday morning that its scientists were monitoring a narrow band of snow that appeared to be originating from the Norfolk area and was likely steam induced “from a nearby power plant.”

About an hour later, a second social media post said, “It’s been confirmed that this snow band is originating from two plants in Norfolk. The steam produced there is essentially acting to add moisture and warmth to the clouds which is causing the snow downwind. Had reports of large flakes under the band and up to 1 inch of new snow accumulation.”

Barjenbruch said he couldn’t identify the industrial facilities in Norfolk producing the steam to create the conditions.

He said a specific temperature range, as much moisture as possible in the air and ice in the clouds are required in order for the situation to occur, but when it occurs, it allows snow to develop “easier, quicker and larger.”

“It takes very specific conditions in the atmosphere,” he said. “We just happen to have them today.”

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