Ice storms lead to extremely hazardous conditions that can severely disrupt utility, transportation, aviation, and communication systems alongside public safety. Using data from the New York State Mesonet—New York’s early warning severe weather detection network—researchers funded in part by CPO’s Climate Observations and Monitoring (COM) program developed an improved method for detecting and monitoring freezing rain and ice storms. The study is published as an early online release in the Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology.
The New York State Mesonet features 126 monitoring stations spread across the state. The research team found that an error in the station instruments that measure wind was actually key for detecting freezing rain. There are two primary instruments measuring wind speed, but during ice storms one of those instruments (a propeller) is coated with ice. This leads to a large difference in reported wind speeds from the two instruments. Pinpointing that error, along with information about air temperature, precipitation, and photo images, the study authors developed a method to identify active freezing rain and continued frozen surface conditions. Their application generates hourly maps of freezing rain conditions. The authors confirmed their method’s success using data from 2017-2021 winters along with a case study from the April 14-16, 2018 ice storm.
This work highlights the benefits of the New York State Mesonet, whose larger spatial spread and specific instruments allow researchers to better estimate when ice storms start and how long the surface conditions remain icy. Such information is ideal for identifying potential dangerous road conditions or tree damage.