Atmospheric Thickness Variability During Air Mass Conditions and Winter Snow Events at Albany, NY: 2002-2012

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Alyssa M Dubbs, Samantha Swift and Melissa L Godek, SUNY College at Oneonta, Kinderhook, NY, United States
A winter weather parameter that is underutilized in the prediction of Northeast snowfall events is critical thickness. Knowledge of atmospheric thickness values during snowfall can benefit the accuracy of winter forecasts, especially if thickness layer ranges at times without precipitation are known. This investigation aims to better understand atmospheric thickness variations in the 1000-500, 1000-700, and 1000-850 hPa layers at Albany, New York during snowfall with differing air mass conditions. Since snow can occur alongside a variety of air mass environments, distinctions in layer thickness between air mass types and critical levels will be examined. Pairing air mass information with an improved understanding of thicknesses may allow forecasters to determine normal snowfall conditions of the atmosphere and decipher when anomalous conditions are occurring alongside heavier snows. Daily geopotential height data are examined alongside Spatial Synoptic Classification weather types over the past decade. Air mass frequencies are computed and baseline thicknesses are established for non-snow days, days with snow and liquid precipitation, and days with only snowfall. Thicknesses are compared to those computed for seven air mass types and differences layers are examined for continuity. For the three air masses identified as prevalent during heavy snow, light-to-heavy and early-to-late season snowfall categories are established and thickness variations are evaluated against non-snow days for significant differences. Results indicate that the differences in layer thicknesses are comparable for all precipitation and non-snow days but around 40 geopotential meters less for pure-snow days. For air masses present during snow, layer thicknesses can vary by over 100 gpm with type. Isolating polar varieties, approximately 50 gpm thickness differences are found in pure-snow days. Comparable differences are detected between the moderate and polar types and the continuity between layers varies with type. In distinguishing by snow total, the thinnest and thickest layers vary for the Dry Polar, Moist Polar and Transitional air masses. Continuity in layer differences are also unique so that Transitional and Moist Polar exhibit comparable variations that the Dry Polar days do not display.