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Oil refineries made it snow more in certain parts of Denver on Wednesday. Here’s why.

Some parts of the area woke up to a fresh blanket of snow this morning. The heaviest band of snow in the metro was concentrated in a narrow corridor from around Coors Field, through the River North Art District, up to Commerce City.

At first glance, this could just be chalked up as a localized jackpot area during a minor Denver snow event. It is actually something much more refined than that, literally.

The large concentration of refineries near Commerce City helped to induce the locally heavier snow band on the northwest side of downtown Denver. It resulted in some snow-covered streets and slick spots along Interstates 25, 70 and 270 in that area.

Whether referred to as refinery-effect snow, or the more technical term of industry-enhanced snow, weather conditions are not always conducive for this special phenomenon. However, this morning the atmosphere was primed for the refineries to enhance the snowfall.

Arctic air has been building up in the lower atmosphere over the past couple of days. The air near the surface is usually colder than the layer of air a few thousand feet above the ground. This allows for an inversion to develop, which traps and stabilizes the air near the ground. A low deck of stratus clouds typically forms in this setup.

The warm and moist air from the refinery steam stacks rose into the clouds, but could not break through the inversion into the upper atmosphere. Ice crystals will start to grow in the shallow clouds, and then fall to the ground as snow.

The prevailing winds in the Denver metro this morning were from the northeast. This helped to direct the localized snow band from the plants near Commerce City, southwestward toward Lodo.

In addition to catching a few area commuters and residents by surprise, this unique phenomenon was strong enough to show up on radar.

 

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