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The science behind melting snow

When hearing about snow entering a region, many people's immediate thoughts turn to the question, "How much?" As a meteorologist, there are countless things to think about when forecasting snowfall. One of the less thought of principals falls under the category of melting snow. It might seem counterintuitive to worry about melting snow before snowfall even occurs, but it is very useful.

An important factor in determining snowfall accumulation is to look at previous air and surface temperatures up to 48 hours prior to the actual event. If multiple warm days are experienced then ground temperatures will remain well above freezing causing any falling snow to melt quickly upon contact.

If snow is already on the ground prior to the incoming system, then albedo is explored. Albedo is the measure of reflectivity by a surface or color. Newer accumulated snowfall has a high albedo meaning the suns light and energy is reflected at higher percentages allowing for less absorption. Snowfall that sits on the ground for multiple days is more likely to melt at quicker rates because the albedo is lower causing the snow to absorb more light and heat.

A final key component to accumulating snowfall and melting rates lives in snowfall rates. Even if the surface temperature is above freezing and snowfall melts upon contact, increased snowfall rates can topple onto itself creating a slush. Continuous, heavy snowfall rates will then fall on this slush which has a lower temperature allowing for accumulation to occur. This can happen on roadways creating dangerous conditions.

Article Topic Follows: Weather
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Chance Gotsch

Chance Gotsch grew up just south of St. Louis and moved to Columbia to attend the University of Missouri to pursue a degree in Atmospheric Sciences.

His interest in weather begin as a child when he used to be afraid of storms. Years later, he purchased a weather forecasting book and weather station at his elementary Scholastic Book Fair. After reading into the hows and whys of atmospheric science, he quickly became interested and gained his new passion.

Chance joined the ABC17 Stormtrack Weather Team in February of 2021. He is currently the weekday Noon Meteorologist.


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