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Can factory smoke actually create snow? We have the answer

Thursday, January 21st 2021, 6:00 am - Whenever we see smokestacks in the distance we always think about environmental impacts, and we should. Do you ever look up at those smokestacks and imagine that they are weather makers? We explore below.

It's known by many names, among them industrial snow, plant snow, or refinery snow.

Either way, it's not a myth: smokestacks have the ability to create snow flurries, as we saw this week in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The U.S. National Weather Service in Marquette, Michigan, captured this radar image that is a good demonstration of this effect, from a smokestack that is part of a mining plant.

mineffect Image Courtesy: National Weather Service Marquette, Michigan

Industrial snow usually happens in the winter season when extremely warm air from the smokestack (in this case the temperatures were 132°C) rises vigorously into the lower parts of the much colder atmosphere and cools to its dew point. This then creates a cloud that can precipitate.

However, it requires one important element to be present: a layer of fog in the atmosphere that acts as a trigger. The inversion layer (warmer air above cooler air) allows the smokestack moisture to rise only to a certain level, often around 100-200 metres up. These low-base "manmade" clouds of sorts can produce very fine ice crystals.

They differ from normal snowflakes, in that this type of snow comes from a lower height in the atmosphere, so the ice crystals do not have enough time to develop fully to their normal snowflake shapes.

For a closer look at this phenomenon, watch the video above.

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Thumbnail courtesy: SD-Pictures/Pixabay

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