NewsJanuary 23, 2013

Nuclear Snow? Power Plant Yields Snow in Pennsylvania

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Andrew Freedman

By Andrew Freedman

You've probably heard of lake-effect snow and ocean-effect snow, but now you should add “nuclear snow” to the list of strange winter weather phenomena. As the Midwest and East shivers under a bitterly cold air mass, waste heat given off from the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Plant near Shippingport, Pa., generated a narrow band of snow. Up to an inch of snow fell as a result of the steam billowing from the stacks.

The snowfall was also the result of steam vented from the Bruce Mansfield Generating Station, which is a coal-burning power plant that is located next to the nuclear facility in Shippingport.

Doppler radar image from the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh, PA.
Click to enlarge the image. Credit: NWS.

The steam from these power plants added heat and moisture to an extremely cold and dry atmosphere, causing the moisture to condense and form clouds and snow flurries. It's not uncommon for steam from power plant cooling towers to help form clouds in downwind areas, but it is rare for them to produce precipitation like this, and even rarer still to see it so clearly via Doppler radar imagery. 

Not to worry though, this snow should not contain elevated levels of radiation, and poses no danger to public health.

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