How does a nuclear reactor cause freak snowstorms?

Summary:That's a question on the lips of people in Pennsylvania, after an inch of snow fell due to the plant's activities.

That's a question on the lips of people in Pennsylvania, after an inch of snow fell due to the plant's activities.

First reported by The Washington Post, the U.S. National Weather Service in Pittsburgh, PA, gave us a glimpse of how our need for power can affect the environment.

According to the service's Facebook page, a band of snow was generated by the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Plant near Shippingport. Up to two inches of snow fell as a result of the steam billowing from the stacks.

When freezing cold air streams in -- in this example, from the northwest -- interacting with the plumes of hot steam emitted from the plant, basic science dictates that condensation and clouds form, resulting in precipitation and -- you guessed it -- snow.

The low temperatures and concentrated area was key for the snow formation, where "inversion" took place at around 5,000 feet, which kept the steam from rising up and dispersing in a normal fashion. Instead, due to a calm night and basically no wind, the stream hung out near the plant, only to be hit by very cold and dry air.

As a result, up to two inches fell across Shippingport on Tuesday night.

"The snow that fell yesterday is not common, but when the weather ingredients are favorable, it can form," Senior Meteorologist Bernie Rayno said. "That's what happened yesterday. It's a unique situation, but not rare."

Check out the full image below:

(via The Washington Post)

Image credit: U.S. National Weather Service


This post was originally published on

Topics: Innovation


Charlie Osborne, a medical anthropologist who studied at the University of Kent, UK, is a journalist, freelance photographer and former teacher. She has spent years travelling and working across Europe and the Middle East as a teacher, and has been involved in the running of businesses ranging from media and events to B2B sales. Charli... Full Bio

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