GENESEO — Winter weather forecasts can predict 16 inches of snow… and a weather balloon?
Andrew Janiszeski and Troy Zaremba ventured into high winds and heavy snowfall on January 17 to launch a weather balloon and radiosonde into ominous skies.
The storm they studied is representative of a much larger mission to identify and understand how and why Northeast storms develop.
“There are some knowledge gaps that we are trying to fill,” Janiszeski said. “There’s not a lot of detailed understanding of these storms, of certain precipitation processes. So we use a lot of instruments to try to discern how snow forms.
Janiszeski said the storm they were studying on January 17 was not originally going to take them to Geneseo. They had planned to launch a weather balloon in Dansville, but when plans changed, it brought them to Geneseo instead.
Their goal was to follow the storm roughly in a straight line from northeastern Pennsylvania — with a stop in Elmira — then on to Geneseo, before ending in Buffalo.
“You draw a line, you go southeast to northwest,” Janiszeski said. “… Being at Geneseo we helped complete some arrangement which was helpful for the flight.”
When Janiszeski and Zaremba launched the weather balloon at Geneseo, many other aspects of research were at play. There was a small radiosonde attached to the weather balloon – an instrument that records temperature, humidity, speed and direction wind inside the storm.
“We kind of have a set in place for each storm we want to sample, where they’ll organize the ground units, and then they have a specific flight plan that’s worked out to target different science targets in the storm.” said Janiszeski.
Two planes were also put in place to try to weather the storm along the road on which the units are stationed. On the 17th, one of the planes couldn’t fly, but Janiszeski said that in no way limited the case.
“It’s one thing to have a good record [storm], but your instruments also have to work and the plane can be finicky,” Janiszeski said. “So you can have a good case and say ‘that’s great’ and your gear still doesn’t hold up either.”
The research Janiszeski is a part of at the University of Illinois is funded by NASA as part of its Investigation of Microphysics and Precipitation for Atlantic Coast-Threatening Storms (IMPACTS) mission.
Janiszeski was born and raised in Buffalo and studied for his undergraduate degree at SUNY Oswego for meteorology.
“When you’re outside enjoying as a kid and as a kid, you’re always a bit curious – I think that’s part of it,” he said. “My father was very passionate about earth sciences, maps and everything. And when I was little, we talked about a lot of different things; earth science stuff, maps, weather.
He discovered that although heavily influenced by Don Paul and the Buffalo Weather Anchors, after participating in the OWLeS project at SUNY Oswego, he would go on to pursue studies at the University of Illinois for Atmospheric Sciences.
“I mean, for me, it’s nothing to have a foot of snow,” Janiszeski said. “You just go out and take care of it.”
Although Janiszeski’s research at SUNY Oswego focused on winter lake-effect systems in Ontario, his research at the University of Illinois focuses on northeast storms.
Understanding the difference between a lake effect system and a northeast storm is important in this research and both can have varying effects on local forecasts and snowfall.
Janiszeski explained that lake effect snow is a storm specifically linked to the Great Lakes when cold air blows over the warmer waters of the lake, resulting in narrow but intense bands of snow. Nor’easters are the result of large areas of low pressure where much more delicate atmospheric dynamics are at play.
“It’s kind of like comparing apples and oranges to some degree, so the northeasts are driven by different mechanisms and it’s not directly related to the lake.” said Janiszeski.
Janiszeski has been researching Northeast Storms in the Northeastern United States since winter 2019 to 2020.
While the process has been less than ideal — whether it’s a mild winter in the first year of research, or being canceled winter 2020-2021 due to COVID-19, Janiszeski explained that there were many good cases of storms this winter alone, including the storm that covered the GLOW area in January.
“The first results – it’s hard to say because you have data right now, but to analyze it it’s hard to just look at it and figure things out. So the detailed analysis won’t really come out until a little while,” Janiszeski said.
NASA has studied these storms in other parts of the country through studies such as the Winter Storm Profiling Program (PLOWS). However, Janiszeski’s research in the northeastern United States has not been continued for over 30 years.
“Where there are gaps in knowledge, in terms of understanding the science, a lot of people want to know the practical point of view and to some people they might say, ‘well, you’re just looking to know, just namely” – which is always a valid reason to do science,” Janiszeski said. “But for the average person living in western New York, one of the implications is that you can better predict some of these things. You can take some of these results and you know that with a better understanding of the atmosphere when you try to predict things, you can have a more accurate prediction.