"Nuke-Effect" Snow Hits Western Pennsylvania

  • This National Weather Service radar shows a band of snow being generated by the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Plant near Shippingport, PA. Up to an inch of snow has fallen as a result of the steam billowing from the stacks. Image: NWS

Meteorologists noticed on Tuesday night a plume of snow drifting downwind from the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Plant in Shippingport, PA, near the Ohio border. Plumes could also be seen from cooling towers at a nearby coal-fired power plant and plants across the midwest. 

“Snow crystals tend to form their best between about minus four and fourteen degrees. Now most of the time that’s further up in the atmosphere," says Rich Kane, head meteorologist at the Pittsburgh National Weather Service. But this week, those cold temperatures were near the ground. Water from the cooling towers is usually around 90 degrees fahrenheit. Usually, it makes little puffs of clouds, except when it’s really cold.

“So when you push, warm moist air into that, it gets buoyant it tends to rise, and instead of water vapor, you’ve got it going directly to snow crystals,” says Kane. 

Plumes could also be seen from cooling towers at a nearby coal-fired power plant and plants across the midwest.

Kane says not to worry if some of the nuke plant snow lands on your yard--it’s perfectly safe, just frozen H2O.

(Listen to the interview with Rich Kane)