“Nuke Effect” Snow? Pennsylvania power plant spawns “nuclear” snow plume

Just when I think I’ve seen everything.

Meteorologists have known for decades that waste plumes…the vented heat and moisture from power plants can produce clouds and showers downwind.

Now this phenomenon has been captured by Doppler radar.

“Nuke Effect” snow.

It appears Pennsylvania’s Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Plant near Shippingport generated enough waste heat and moisture in this bitter air mass to create a “nuke effect” snow plume downwind. Up to an inch of snow was reported under the narrow, localized snow plume.

Here’s the Doppler radar image from Pittsburgh showing the plume drifting downwind.

CC power plume.PNG

Image: Pittsburgh NWS doppler radar via Climate Central

How does this happen?

Enough additional heat and moisture is injected into the bitterly cold air overhead that clouds and snow crystals form in the plume. As the winds blow the plume downwind, the snowflakes fall out of the cloud base, leaving a narrow swath of snow underneath.

Kudos to Climte Central’s Andrew Freedman for picking up on this remarkable radar image. He elaborates here.

You’ve probably heard of lake-effect snow and ocean-effect snow, but now you should add “nuclear snow” to the list of strange winter weather phenomena. As the Midwest and East shivers under a bitterly cold air mass, waste heat given off from the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Plant near Shippingport, Pa., generated a narrow band of snow. Up to an inch of snow fell as a result of the steam billowing from the stacks.

The snowfall was also the result of steam vented from the Bruce Mansfield Generating Station, which is a coal-burning power plant that is located next to the nuclear facility in Shippingport.

Not to worry though, this snow should not contain elevated levels of radiation, and poses no danger to public health.

Pretty cool stuff.


  • Craig

    This is a great example of micro induced Weather. I speak often of microclimate, but here’s documentation of local enhancement to sensible weather.

    I’d say it confirms that in some way our activities on the planet indeed impact weather and climate.

  • Ryan

    I wish it would have been called “cooling tower effect” – a subset of people will think it’s radioactive because it comes from the cooling water at a nuke plant – when in fact there is no danger.

    According to Wikipedia, it has 2 reactors, generating 1.9 GW total. It’ll be making about 2x that much waste heat then.

    According to one source it’s 720 gallons of cooling water consumed in a “wet” cooling tower per MWh. At 1900 MW, that’s 1.3 million gallons per hour or 316 million cubic inches. Assuming it’s all converted to snow, multiply by 10 to approximately convert to cubic inches of snow. Divide by the number of square inches in a square mile and you get 1 inch of snow per 0.8 square miles per hour.

    Sounds a bit low compared to the report, but it was fun to do the math!

  • Cory Stansbury


    Good calculation. Remember, the waste heat comes not from the electrical generation, but the remaining 2/3 or so of thermal energy that is wasted. Thermal power for both is 2689 MW. That leaves 3488 MW to be released through the coolant towers (minus a bit for thermal losses). In addition, you have Bruce Mansfield next door which is 2741 MWe. If we assume 40% efficiency for the units, that’s 6852 MWt, leaving 4111 MW released from that plant. That’s a total of ~7600 MW to generate snow.

  • Tyler

    Love the math! How does that compare to the average snow-maker on ski hills around here?

  • Thomas Nass

    Man is in way over his head with Nuclear Plants, INTELLECTUALLY, TECHNOLOGICALLY, SAFETY WISE AND PERSONNEL WISE. They are, and will remain, “Structural Frankenstein’s” with GREED as the Contractor!

    They pose constant Unknown, Unforeseen and Unimaginable dangers to ourselves and our Environment due, among other things, to UNPREDICTABLE and UNCONTROLLABLE WEATHER CONDITIONS. They are not, in my opinion, a reasonable or economical solution to our energy problems. By the time we find this out, it will be too late! We began to see evidence of their potential danger, which we seem to have ignored, at the Three Mile Island Plant and Chernobyl. Fukushima is showing us just how dangerous.

    And, may God help us, we haven’t seen anything yet! Nor have we yet to see -and hopefully, not experienced, the ultimate consequences of the Fukushima Disaster! What Unknown and Unimaginable potential danger do the Tanks at Fukushima holding 50 MILLION GALLONS of Radioactive Waste Water pose when these Tanks Rot -and they will eventually Rot, and release that Radioactive Water? Maybe DUMP it into the Pacific? It occurs to me more and more, that Technology, with its concomitant GREED, will eventually be our undoing! Where are we going to store OUR Continuing and Growing volumes of Nuclear Waste? And in what are we going to store it? Have we found any Containers yet that won’t ROT? We’re going to run out of storage areas at some point in time! And I am an optimist!

  • AC

    Plot that path over the years: That is where you *don’t* want to live.