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How does a nuclear reactor cause freak snowstorms?

Posting in Environment

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," AccuWeather.com 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

Related:

— By on January 23, 2013, 5:10 PM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure