Appalachian State professor talks snow

photo courtesy of Matthew Johnson

photo courtesy of Matthew Johnson

By Molly Ashline, Staff Writer

Published in print Feb. 25, 2015

UNC-Greensboro’s geography department invited Dr. Baker Perry of Appalachian State University (ASU) to their second colloquium of the spring semester. His talk was called, “Synoptic Influences on New Snowfall Characteristics in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.”

Dr. Paul Knapp of the geography department introduced Perry.

Perry presented a culmination of eight years of collaborative research. Perry’s collaborators include professors from UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State, and UNC-Asheville. He has also worked closely with the National Weather Service.

Perry hopes that his research will help foster networking between academics and forecasters.

“We want to strengthen ties between the academic and forecasting community…this has been a very rewarding collaboration over the years because there’s direct impacts in the forecasting community,” he said.

He spoke briefly about the relative deficiency in precise measurement and data.

“All these snowfall event characteristics still remain a considerable source on uncertainty in mountain regions. We just don’t have a lot of data,” said Perry.

The majority of Perry’s presentation was steeped in geographical jargon, but the message remained clear.

Perry was interested in exploring snowfall and synoptic influences, which are essentially patterns of weather movements across geography and climate that can impact the type of snowfall accumulated.

“Temperature plays a role, but synoptic class plays a big one,” said Perry, emphasizing the need to define and measure synoptic classes.

Perry identified multiple synoptic categories, and their prevalence in the Southern Appalachian Mountains (SAM).

Variability in snowfall, something confirmed by Perry’s data, is a fact of life for anyone who has spent a winter season in North Carolina.

“We’ve had some pretty lean years: 2007-2008, 62 cm the whole year…and 2010-2011, 248 cm,” Perry gave as an example.

While much of Perry’s research is based on weather stations in SAM, he also has a post in the Andes.

“This is where a lot of my work is right now. I’ve just been funded by the National Science Foundation on an early career award to investigate tropical Andean precipitation,” said Perry.

This post is highly relevant to the global discussion on global warming and climate change.

“[It] is an important site because there used to be a glacier over this ridge that disappeared in 2009. It’s kind of a poster child for climate change and glacial retreat,” explained Perry.

Another signature of climate change is the effect of Arctic Oscillation (AO) on snowfall in SAM.

According to the National Climatic Data Center, AO is “climate pattern characterized by winds circulating counterclockwise around the Arctic.”

Perry gave an example of a dramatic difference in SAM snowfall from one year to the next when AO was in flux.

If the AO is an important factor in global weather, its alteration could have rippling effects.

Perry closed by sharing some of his future research interests.

“One of the areas that we’ve been moving in the last couple of years is to collect and analyze data from Roan Mountain. This is a high elevation site right on the North Carolina-Tennessee border that has not had any sort of climate measurements in the past,” said Perry.

The next geography colloquium will be March 20.

Categories: molly ashline, News

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